A new distiller: Disobedient Spirits

Written by Bill Toland on


Bob Sechrist’s mom was driving him to orchards when he was just a teen, the two of them buying up fruit that would later become wine. Now a geography professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, he teaches a course on regional winemaking, among others.

So in a perfect world, he would have become a vinter. But the world is imperfect, and Mr. Sechrist — along with his business partner, Bob Begg — will instead be opening a distillery in Homer City, Indiana County, perhaps by this autumn, the third commercial distillery in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

The pair of IUP professors — Mr. Sechrist still teaches, while Mr. Begg retired a year ago — incorporated the business last year, calling it Disobedient Spirits LLC. The still (the piece of equipment that heats, separates and distills the spirits) is being custom-built by Hillbilly Stills in Kentucky and should be delivered in April, while the property that will eventually house the distilling operation should come into their possession in the next week or two.

“The biggest stumbling block was finding a building that would work for us,” Mr. Sechrist said. The building they settled on was formerly a medium-sized grocery store (called Mazzoni and Runzo’s), about 12,000 square feet, at 30 S. Main St. in Homer City.

“The roof is falling in. There’s asbestos. The electricity hasn’t been turned on in a couple of years,” Mr. Begg said. “But that’s part of the excitement — [to] fix it up, and make it nice.”

Like our other local distillers, Wigle (Pittsburgh Distilling Co., LLC) and Boyd & Blair vodka (Pennsylvania Pure Distilleries), the pair behind Disobedient Spirits got into distilling as relative novices, studying up as they moved through the process, consulting with experts, attending conferences organized by the American Distillers Institute.

And as with the other distillers, the process — from property acquisition, to build-out, to licensing — has gone slower than they imagined. The most recent hiccup was Homer City’s zoning code, and whether the code would allow a distillery to open up next door to a church.

“Progress is slow,” Mr. Begg said. “The still is already late.”

Better late than never, though, and both Mr. Begg and Mr. Sechrist say there’s no turning back now. Best-case scenario, they’ll have a product on hand by Christmas 2013.

Ah, yes, the product. Disobedient Spirits will make wheat vodka and rye whiskey, at least initially. “Vodka, that’s the easiest thing to make. And it requires very little aging,” Mr. Sechrist said. Future spirits, he said, might include a blue corn whiskey, resembling a bourbon; a barley whiskey; and flavored vodkas.

Though state law permits local “limited” distilleries to produce and sell up to 100,000 gallons annually, Disobedient Spirits will start out making 5,000 gallons a year, the pair hopes. They are still working out the sourcing of their grains, bottles and barrels, but they eventually hope to buy as much of it as possible from within Pennsylvania.

For updates on the distillery's progress, visit: http://disobedientspirits.com/

Disobedient Spirits image

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