Thursday Barlogue: Federal Distilling Room in Philadelphia
Two Saturdays ago my husband and I were headed into the city for dinner. We decided to stop for drinks beforehand at Federal Distilling Room (FDR) in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, which opened to the public just this past August. Having always been a vodka lover, I was excited to have an opportunity to taste their Stateside Urbancraft Vodka because I’d already read and heard so many good things about it. I was also very intrigued to take a look at their drink menu, which features vodka as the main spirit. If you’ve been reading my blog this week, you know how much it distresses me that the list of vodka cocktails is woefully short at so many bars. Definitely not the case here! There are 12 very innovative drinks on the menu (with excellent names, I might add), but I’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s start by talking about the space itself.
The wide open tasting room has a very cool urban vibe to it with its white brick walls, industrial lighting, and exposed pipes. There is table seating off to the right side in front of a large glass window through which you can see into the distillery. To the left is a beautiful marble bar that sits beneath the large Stateside Vodka sign. Behind it the backbar shelving holds a striking display of the vodka itself, as well as a wide selection of other well-known spirits. So if you are not a vodka drinker, you will have no problem finding another cocktail to order here! There were a good number of people sitting at the bar that Saturday night; the entire room felt full of positive energy and there was great music coming from an awesome sound system.We found 2 spots at the bar and were greeted warmly by Matt Quigley, co-owner of FDR along with his brother Bryan, and Kyle DiRaddo, who was bartending that night but who also had a hand in crafting the drinks on the cocktail menu. Both Matt and Kyle talked about the challenges involved in developing a bar program around a spirit like vodka, which, if made well, will totally fade into the background and allow the other elements of the cocktails to take center stage. I love the fact that several of their drinks are classics with just a simple twist: Scent of a Mule is a Moscow Mule with a bit of vanilla extract, The Collie Man is a take on a Vodka Collins with some basil added in, and my favorite is The Cat’s Pajamas, a variation of a vodka martini with orange liqueur, lillet blanc, and orange bitters subbing in for the traditional dry vermouth. I had this drink and it was excellent!
The other implication of your main spirit stepping gracefully aside is that your secondary ingredients and garnishes had better be as innovative, interesting, and fresh as possible. Federal Distilling Room makes this look easy by using a wide assortment of bitters, fresh juices, house made simple syrups infused with things like cucumber and blueberry-ginger, and liqueurs like Triple sec, Elderflower, and Crème de Violette. DiRaddo explained to me that FDR’s syrups are made with 4 parts water to 1 part sugar, which lightens them up considerably. This helps to impart a clean taste to the cocktails because they are not weighed down by a heavy syrup and it also respects the move that most people are making towards being more health-conscious in general. DiRaddo and I also talked about their jalapeño-infused vodka and how FDR arrived, through trial and error, on 4 days being the sweet spot to get the infusion just right. This attention to detail makes all the difference in the world. I had the Day Walker (pictured below), the drink that uses the jalapeño-infused vodka and the blueberry-ginger syrup, and I could easily see why it, along with The Cleanse, is one of the most popular drinks on the menu. My husband had the Dirty and Gritty, also with the jalapeño-infused vodka and some olive juice, making it another subtle twist on a classic: the Dirty Martini.In addition to the great cocktails, FDR also offers a small but impressive wine and beer list. In terms of food, FDR’s offerings are far more substantial than what you’d normally expect from a tasting room. There are some snack items like glazed kettle chips, sausage and honey, marinated olives, and house made ricotta, but there are also heartier offerings that include sandwiches, panini, flatbread, and chili.
On the day that I revisited FDR to take some pictures for this post, I had the opportunity to tour the distilling room and learn more about Stateside Vodka, one of the fastest growing spirits in Pennsylvania. Stateside is made from non-GMO Missouri corn and it is gluten-free. It is distilled 7 times and then infused with medical grade oxygen for a 24-hour period (to refine the nose) before it’s run through a 12-step filtration system. This same system also filters all the water and ice used in both the distillery and in the bar area. The vodka is then washed with carbon before moving onto the final step where pharmaceutical grade minerals are added back in. This improves the taste and mouthfeel of the vodka and, more importantly, because electrolytes are so important to cellular hydration it helps to mitigate hangover symptoms. That’s good news for all of us! There’s no question that Stateside is an exceptional vodka. The aroma is clean and the taste is smooth. I’ve used it in several cocktails at home and to me it stands right up there with CROP vodka, which is my favorite. It’s not surprising to me at all that Stateside has won 8 medals, or that it was the official vodka of the DNC.The bottom line here is that Federal Distilling Room is more than just a tasting room. It’s an awesome space with a well-stocked bar where you can order a number of fabulous vodka cocktails, as well as just about any other drink you might want to have. The food menu is light enough if you’re just stopping by for a drink, or substantial enough if you plan to make a night out of it. Be sure to get there soon; you’ll be more than happy that you did!
Federal Distilling Room 1700 N Hancock Street Philadelphia, PA
For those of you that are local, I’ll be pouring drinks tonight from 5-9 at Gorshin Trading Post in Haddonfield, NJ for Girls’ Night Out. I am using Stateside Vodka in one of the cocktails I’m making. Stop in and give it a try!
On the blog tomorrow, I’ll be talking about the easiest way to make cocktails for a crowd.