Brandywine Branch Distillers: A Destination Distillery

Brandywine Branch Distillers

Fifty miles outside of Philadelphia, and just a few miles from the source of the Brandywine river, sits a 19th century stone barn adorned in classic red and white colors. Two years ago, Don Avelino and his team meticulously restored that barn to create a home for Brandywine Branch Distillers, a craft distillery in the rural town of Elverson, Pa.

Brandywine Branch Distillers

Inside the barn, distillers Mike Higgins and Gabe Barnard work their magic, fermenting in small batches with five handbuilt, Douglas fir vessels, and distilling in hand-hammered copper stills imported from Germany. Charred oak barrels are stacked throughout the distillery, where bourbon and rye whiskeys age to completion.

In the office on site, the business team hustles to grow the company. Don Avelino, the president and CEO, oversees the entire operation. Scott Avellino, Don’s brother and vice president of sales and marketing, builds and manages distribution—he’s already secured them accounts in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, New York, Michigan and Florida, with more on the way. Tobin Bickley, the chief operation officer, handles the operations and finance side of the distillery.

During tours, which happen every Saturday (but there’s usually someone happy to walk you through the distillery anytime), you’ll see the various stages of fermentation. Each batch takes about five days to ferment, and the distillers start a new batch every day.

In terms of production, Brandywine Branch Distillers has a decidedly narrow focus, primarily making bourbon and gin.

“We wanted to make gins that could be sipping gins, as well as cocktail gins,” said Don.

Brandywine Branch Distillers

Scott echoed that statement: “Our New American style gin is changing people’s perception on what gin is. It’s not your typical juniper forward spirit that we have grown so accustomed to. Our approach is to let the botanicals take the front seat and soften the sharp, piney flavor of juniper.”

Looking to differentiate from the rest of the industry, the distillery makes a unique gin for each of the seasons. For instance, Harvest, a fall gin, features botanicals and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, fennel and orange peel.

Brandywine’s lineup also features a jalapeno gin, which Don promises is like nothing you’ve ever had before—in fact, it’s the only jalapeno-infused gin in the country!

This creative take on craft spirits is all about shaking up expectations. Scott said, “One of our favorite things to do is to educate skeptics on our gins and turn them into our biggest fans. Too many times have we been told, ‘I don’t do gin’ or ‘I had a bad experience once.’ Challenge accepted!”

They are clearly proud of the gin, but may be even more excited about the different whiskeys the distillery is just starting to release. Now, you may be thinking, how did Brandywine have time to properly age whiskey if it’s only been in operation for just under two years?

Brandywine Branch Distillers

In 2013, anticipating starting the distillery, Don traveled around the country taking courses and studying the art of distillation. While he did his due diligence on the industry, he enlisted the services of a cooperage to build bourbon barrels. He then had a distiller fill those barrels according to his mash bill and put them aside to age.

“Now that whiskey and bourbon is about four years old and we’re beginning to bottle it,” said Don.

During a visit to the distillery, the barn itself is a steady, impressive presence. According to local lore, the barn was a hotbed for hippies in the ‘60s and ‘70s; those who lived there even coated the barn’s giant oak beams with psychedelic patterns.

Brandywine Branch Distillers

The colors still coat the beams of the barn, and a lot of the ‘60s idealism remains, especially when it comes to being green. The distillery takes a multifaceted approach to making as little negative environmental impact as possible.

Running a distillery requires using a significant amount of water, so Brandywine built a cold water recirculation system. The only water that can’t be recirculated is the water used for cleaning. For that, there is a tank that stores the unusable water, and a service comes to pick it up once a month. At this time, Brandywine generates zero waste water.

As far as the fermentation process goes, the distillery found another opportunity to conserve. All of the spent grains get donated to local farmers and are used to feed cattle and hogs.

As his team restored the building, Don went to a local lumber mill that uses trees from the Main Line. The mill cut slabs of English walnut and sycamore that they then used to make the bar top and table tops in the intimate Bistro.

Brandywine Branch Distillers

The small restaurant, nestled comfortably inside the barn, is practically the definition of cozy. The thick stone walls and wide barn beams bring to mind hunkering down on winter nights, warmed by a fire with a good book.

“It’s the kind of place you can sit down and have a quiet conversation or turn to whoever is sitting next you and get to know them,” said Don. “That’s the nice thing about the Bistro—people come in and before they know it, they’re making friends.”

The food from chef Natasha Yruel is outstanding. The menu is a unique, ever-changing take on local, new American cuisine.

“Our chef, Natasha, just makes the most amazing food,” said Don. “You wouldn’t expect to get such quality and creative food at a distillery.”

Brandywine Branch Distillers

That earnest attention to detail is applied to everything that Brandywine Branch Distillers does. So while you come for the craft spirits, you stay for the friendly service, cozy atmosphere and the ideal location—just far enough outside of the city to completely lose yourself and find your new favorite distillery.

Find Brandywine Branch Distillers at 50 Warwick Rd. in Elverson; phone: (610) 901-3668.

  • Photos: Deana Clement Photography