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Aug 9, 2014 05:02 PM

Advice about opening a farm distillery in MD or PA?

So I'm trying persuade my sister that it would be profitable for her to open a farm distillery on her fruit farm, which straddles the PA and MD borders west of Baltimore. She and my brother-in-law grow beautiful apples, pears, plums, and peaches, lots of other fruit, sells in farmers markets in Baltimore and in DC, and directly to a number of well-known restaurants. So she certainly has the raw materials to make some good distilled spirits, eaux de vie, fruit brandies, whatever, and she has the ability to distribute what she sells to people who are already used to paying decent coin for her fruit. Does anyone know what legal obstacles she would up against in either Maryland or Pennsylvania? What kind of capital outlay she should anticipate? Farm distilleries are becoming popular in upstate NY, where I live, but I'm completely ignorant about how they might operate (if they can legally operate at all!) in the two states she farms in. Any help out there? TIA.

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  1. I'm not an expert on legal matters here, so I'll leave that to somebody else, but I have lived in York all my life and just talking to some brewpub owners educated me on the simple fact that.. PA is very archaic and convoluted when it comes to alcohol and laws, and compared to MD, it sounds like much more of a headache here (or maybe they both are, I'm sure I'll be corrected soon). For example one owner told me how, he could currently brew and sell his beer on the premises, but if he wanted to brew with apples, he'd need a separate license, if we the customers wanted to bring growlers, he'd need another license, etc. I'm not sure if our laws are just as convoluted in dealing with the spirit world. I hope somebody can clear it up for you, because I can say I'd enjoy very much having a near by distillery to be proud of making good eau de vie, even if it were a state over in MD which is still close. I wish you and your sister the best of luck! Keep us posted on the developments.

    1. My advice is go to the proper source. The forum for discussing this is the American Distilling Institute (ADI Forums) discussion board for artisanal distillers and those considering starting a distillery.

      As someone who has started two craft distilleries, and consulted to a dozen clients wanting to start, or starting a distillery, it is the only place to start your education into the US craft distillery market.

      In addition, you and your sister need to visit a DOZEN or more farm distilleries within a few hours drive. Start as soon as possible. The owners will be more than willing to discuss things with you. Give a call first to set up an appointment. If they can't see you, visit during a tour to get some starting info.

      Here's a partial map that lists some distilleries in the US. Lots in PA and MD.

      Legal obstacles? Yes, lots, but not insurmountable.

      Warning: expect one to two years of JUST research to get to the start of the opening of a distillery. Even on the lowest budget, expect $50,000-100,000, and that is for a bare bones, low tech, one man distillery. That's for making something like rum or a real basic whiskey. For fruit brandy... A proper, small, farm distillery, to make any type of brandy, is more in the $150,000-500,000 range.

      Also, here is the link to the American Distilling Institute, the informal trade organization for those starting distilleries.

      There is a formal trade organization for those who already have distilleries, but that is for much, much, later.

      1 Reply
      1. re: JMF

        Thanks! I'll follow through on these suggestions.

      2. Please learn to ferment and distill well. Work or volunteer at distilleries to learn the art. Far too often people launch into things like this, charge a good amount of coin for poor product, and lose their good name for a while. Learning along the way has lost your chance at a good first impression.

        1 Reply
        1. re: yarm

          Agreed making good quality Fruit Distillates(ones where the flavors or retained) is an Art and takes Education.
          Do seek out places like these Who make exceptional Schnaps:

        2. I was just looking into this today. I think you just need a commercial distiller's license and probably a wholesale sales license: