Maggie’s Farm Rum in Strip District celebrates its 5-year anniversary
Tim Russell can relate to Bob Dylan.
Bored by the 9-to-5 grind, he decided to take a cue from “Maggie’s Farm,” the folksinger’s freewheeling anthem, and find something more meaningful to do with his life.
He found a reason in rum.
Today, he’s the owner of Allegheny Distilling, producer of Maggie’s Farm Rum, some of the most awarded spirits in the United States.
On Oct. 13, from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., the business will celebrate its 5th anniversary with a booze-soaked blowout under the 31st Street Bridge. The event will feature five bands, five food trucks, five beers and, of course, five rum cocktails for just $5 each. Tickets are available online for $5.
The party will take place within stumbling distance of the 3,000-square-foot Strip District distillery, which once housed movie props and automobiles.
In half a decade, the company has made enough yearly revenue to increase production five times, going from a fermentation capacity of 300 gallons in 2013 to 5,000 gallons in 2018.
Maggie’s Farm Rums are available throughout Pennsylvania, Tennessee, the District of Columbia, Maryland and Delaware. Minnesota, Ohio and Virginia are patiently waiting for their shot at the coveted liquor.
Russell, 36, took an interest in rum after his beer-centric business plan went bust.
“I wanted to open a brewery, but so did everybody and their brother,” he says of the saturated suds market. “Around the same time, I noticed law changes in the pipeline that would allow craft distilleries to operate more like a brewpub.”
He received his distilling certification from the Siebel Institute in Chicago and researched rum in books and sampled different brands at conventions throughout the country.
The first bottle of Maggie’s Farm White Rum - the Commonwealth’s first commercially available craft rum since Prohibition - sold on Black Friday 2013. Within six months, Russell introduced a spiced rum. The distillery now churns out seven full-time rums, with plans to introduce three more varieties by the end of the year.
Last August, Maggie’s Farm introduced its first flavored rum and sold out of the pineapple concoction within hours of its release. It will enter the line-up of flagship beverages.
Unlike a lot of rum distilleries that rely on artificial additives to create different flavor profiles, Maggie’s Farm Rums are made with 100 percent natural ingredients. Russell says they’re trying to come up with a way to make a coconut rum, but the test batches haven’t been up to his high standards.
Folks can see the head distiller and his crew in action on Saturday afternoons, when the distillery offers tours. If you’re less concerned with the science of rum and more about drinking it, bottles, samples and full cocktails are available Wednesday through Sunday.
Russell’s wife, Layla, is the bar manager and is constantly coming up with new drinks, such as Maggie’s Daiquiri made with white rum, fresh-squeezed lime juice and simple syrup.
With a glass of rum in his hand, Russell sits back and reflects on his old job working for a defense contractor.
“This,” he says, “is much more rewarding.”