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Kutztown Festival’s Moonshiners

Due to the recent rise in popularity and awareness of America’s history with distilled spirits, it’s no wonder that the festival’s 150-year-old colonial whisky still is a popular stop for festival goers. A television series this past fall, the restoration of George Washington’s distillery in Mount Vernon, the largest of its time, and the development of educational whisky trails and tours has certainly given Americans a renewed interest in one of the Countries first major exports.

A festival mainstay since the 1960’s, the Festival’s Barto Birch Distillery allows visitors to step back in time and witness a colonial 50-gallon Appalachian copper still in operation. Each morning the adjacent ramshackle wood distillery shed is covered in green leafy branches just as it would have been a hundred years ago to avoid detection from the revenuers. Next the dry laid stone foundation upon which the still sits is checked for large gaps to avoid heat loss from the fire contained within. The distiller’s last step prior to setting the wood fire ablaze is to seal all the stills connections with his homemade flour, sawdust, and water paste.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble! The still’s contents begin to boil as water rolls down the wooden flume to cool the condensing coil or “worm”. Smoke bellows from the bottom of the still as visitors line up to get an edible sample of two of the brewers main ingredients, Black Birch and Sassafras bark. As a tribute to Pennsylvania’s turn of the century birch oil industry, the Festival still’s second life now consists of extracting birch oil and sassafras oil, key traditional ingredients in the ever popular drinks, birch beer and sarsaparilla. Festival goers throughout the grounds can sample these drinks both by the cup or in the Festival logoed 12oz take-home bottles.