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Crooked Creek Distillery opens ‘stone’s throw’ from the Yough

November 8, 2018

When Dave Baustert and Meredith Baldock, partners in life and in business, found the West Newton building where they opened a distillery in August, it immediately felt like home.

And like most homes, the 100-year-old structure housing Crooked Creek Distillery -- and Smoke Stack BBQ -- was in need of a little TLC.

Baustert, 53, and Baldock, 49, both of Irwin, believe the building at 104 S. Water St., with a view of the Youghiogheny River outside and just a “short crossover” from the Great Allegheny Passage, is a sweet spot for a craft distillery.

“I think the first time we walked through, we fell in love with the building and the view and the town,” Baldock says.

“We wondered, ‘Could we make it work?’ We decided we could,” she says.

Baldock describes the interior of the former Ford dealership, with both a cozy cafe and bar, as “contemporary industrial rustic.”

Original brick work and wall-mounted steam radiators, a gleaming bar and walls painted a deep, warm melon shade prove the description apt.

Near the bar is a bike rack for those who want to give their feet a rest and sample some local product.

Another career

Baustert, distillery president, and Baldock both work full-time day jobs.

Many people have second or third careers, they note. Rather than waiting for retirement, they threw themselves into opening the distillery now.

While Baustert was living in South Carolina a few years ago, a friend of his opened a distillery, piquing his interest.

“When I moved back to Pennsylvania, that was my plan (to open a distillery),” he says.

“I’m self-taught. I’ve done a lot of research,” he says.

Baustert runs the still each week, and anticipates attending a distilling course in the near future as their inventory and offerings increase.

The distillery’s name comes from a large stream running through Armstrong County, where Baustert spent many childhood summers at a family camp.

While learning the ropes, the couple enjoys support from regional breweries, wineries and distilleries, they say.

“It’s more complementary than competitive,” Baldock says of the alcohol-making industry.

Baustert and Baldock refer customers to the nearby Bloom Brew and vice versa, they say.

“It’s a really friendly industry,” Baustert says.

“They are all willing to share,” Baldock adds.

Moonshine and barbecue

Currently, they produce Spring House Vodka and Tin Hut Moonshine, with plans to make flavored moonshine, along with gin and rye whiskey, in the near future.

“What we make is a traditional, South Carolina moonshine,” Baustert says.

They also sell Pennsylvania beers and local wine to accommodate their other customers.

“Not everyone likes spirits,” Baustert says.

“We try to showcase the craft drink, so people think of spirits in a different way,” Baldock adds.

They also enjoy educating people about moonshine and vodka. Moonshine comes through with and compliments a mixer’s flavor, while vodka tends to take on the flavor of the mixer, they say.

Flavored vodkas may be produced down the road.

“I think a lot of it is experimenting with our own flavors, putting our own touch, spin on it,” Baustert says.

“People enjoy the interaction and learning about the process,” Baldock says.

“People are very curious about the process, how the (250-gallon) still works,” Baustert adds.

People also enjoy the scents wafting from the Smoke Stack BBQ smoker. Barbecue ribs and chicken are available Saturday, with pulled pork and kielbasa sold Friday and Sunday.

“The aroma of barbecue fills the valley and the town. ... Who doesn’t like barbecue and moonshine?” Baldock says.

Coming from all around

Customers are coming from Pittsburgh, Rostraver, off the GAP trail and surrounding communities, the couple says.

“We have already a lot of regular customers here every weekend,” Baustert says.

Musical entertainment is on the horizon.

“We are still ramping up. I think we are trying to find our rhythm, bring in things (townspeople) will enjoy and complement the space,” Baldock says.

A tasting room and retail store will open soon, with holiday baskets of cheer and more of the distillery’s popular T-shirts likely to be sold.

They plan to replace the garage door, recently open to the evening air, with a glass door for cold weather months.

They have had good experiences with entities ranging from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to municipal officials to local businesses, the couple says.

“It feels like home away from home,” Baldock says.

For new entrepreneurs, that’s the spirit.

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