Change in Pennsylvania is a-brewin’ ... and distilling and fermenting its way onto the shelves of Pennsylvania Libations, the state’s first privately owned spirits retailer located in the Strip District. Owner Christian Simmons, along with his sister and director of operations, Faith George, are dedicated to carrying only Pennsylvania-made spirits, wines, ciders, beers and meads. Their goal is to have about two dozen different distillers. Their current list includes Big Spring Spirits, Maggie’s Farm Rum, Boyd & Blair, Liberty Pole Spirits and others. Although Simmons just opened in late June, he already has plans to open a second location in the Pittsburgh airport.
Simmons started in the industry as the co-founder and co-owner of Four Seasons Brewing Company in Latrobe. Today, he’s no longer involved in day-to-day operations there, and that allowed him to spend time opening Pennsylvania Libations, the idea for which started in 2015. He started a spirits brokerage company, CJ Spirits in Kane, Pa., and expanded on his passion for spirits and small business.
Simmons always enjoyed connecting local brewers and distillers with each other and encouraging cross-promotion. “It’s all about building relationships,” he said of the brokerage work. He relied on the contacts he’d made with manufacturers, as well as strong family relationships, to help guide him through the complicated applications, approvals and licensing processes with the state. He cites the deep experience and trust with manufacturers who’ve been in the business for up to 35 years. “Now we have a retail store. It’s still about building relationships, but now we can service the public, [whereas] before we could only service liquor-license holders,” he says excitedly. “I’m for the people. I’m not a part of any party. I just like to party.”
The business model works on a consignment system. Everything stocked in the store is on consignment. There’s also a stocking fee and a commission from the sales. “We have what we believe is one of the most prime retail locations in the state, and because of that, it’s very favorable for a lot of distilleries to have us be their management company. We’re a licensed management company, the first ever in the history of Pennsylvania for PA distilleries,” says Simmons. “We want these to be brand-equity hubs and help these manufacturers get their products out to bars and restaurants as well.”
Simmons is open to working with companies of all sizes: “We’ll take any manufacturer that has one product or 12 products.” He also runs them through a vetting process for quality and pricing, in order to be confident he can sell it. Customers are welcome to schedule one free 20-minute tasting a day to try before they buy. He hopes this will increase the familiarity with Pennsylvania brands. “It’s an incubator for the distillers that sell their product in the state store systems, to sell to bars and restaurants and [provide knowledge to] the public,” says Simmons.
2103 Penn Ave., Strip District. www.pennsylvanialibations.com