Spirit Cruises Summer 2019 Leaderboard

Behind the Spirit: Max Pfeffer, Head Distiller of Manatawny Still Works

by Drink Philly on Dec 5, 2018 in Culture

 
In this installment of Behind the Spirit, we spoke to Max Pfeffer, the head distiller at Manatawny Still Works in Pottstown. A native of the Philly suburbs, Pfeffer has a degree in chemical engineering from Penn State and now lives in West Chester, and we chatted about how he got his start, his rescue dog, and his grandfather’s history in the industry.
 
Drink Philly (DP): Tell me about Manatawny Still Works.
Max Pfeffer (MP): Manatawny Still Works opened in 2014, and my goal then (and now) was and is to make craft whiskey. Our inaugural product was probably the vodka, which is sourced and doesn’t have our name on it, but our first craft product was the J. Potts White Whiskey, about two weeks after we opened. We are a craft distillery focusing on craft whiskey, though we make a variety of products, and we want to expand the idea of what whiskey can be. When you go into a liquor store and look at the whiskey selection, there are few choices when it comes to styles — bourbon, rye, scotch, Canadian, Irish, Japanese — and we want to explore what whiskey can be.We’re not just trying to emulate what the big guys are doing, but rather, make our own craft whiskey. 

DP: Where did you work before this, and how did you get into distilling?
MP: After college, I went to UC Davis and did their master brewer’s program, after which I worked at Victory for three years and Sly Fox for three years. One day I was brewing, and John Giannopoulos, the owner of Sly Fox and one of our three original founding partners, called me into his office and told me he was starting a distillery and wanted me to do it for him. I told him I didn’t know how to distill, and he said, “you’ll learn.”
 
DP: Describe a typical workday for you.
MP: A lot of planning. Everything in this business happens slowly, so you have to attempt to be out in front of it as much as possible, because a decision you make today could affect you down the road. We make a lot of whiskey, let it sit, and work hard to do all the other parts of the business to ensure that someone will buy it in a couple of years.
 
 
DP: What’s trendy in spirits right now?
MP: What you can’t get — the Pappy van Winkles of the world, and so on — basically, getting that perfect, unattainable whiskey that you can brag about.
 
 
DP: What’s a trend in spirits that you wish would die?
MP: The lack of transparency. The major players in the spirits world are made up of a handful of large conglomerates, which makes it hard for consumers to understand what they are drinking.  Is it “small batch” if you can buy it at every liquor store?
 
DP: Any predictions about where the craft spirits industry might go next?
MP: Good places. There’s been so much initial growth in such a short period of time, but it takes time for everybody to refine the companies, the whiskey, and the entire operation. You can’t just start a craft whiskey company and be perfect on day one. Over the next five to ten years, you’ll see a lot more great plans come to fruition.
 
 
DP: One unexpected fact about you?
MP: I’m passionate about animal welfare and animal rescue. My rescue dog, Piper, is the face of our Piper Project, and we donate proceeds and host rescue events at the distillery.
 
DP: Do you have a favorite Manatawny Still Works product?
MP: The Keystone Whiskey is my baby. I’ve made some great batch whiskeys here and there, but on the average night, that’s what I’m drinking.
 
 
DP: What’s your favorite beer?
MP: Cantillon Lou Pepe Gueuze.
 
DP: What’s your favorite cocktail?
MP: A whiskey sour with egg white.
 
 
DP: What do you think the essentials are for a good home bar?
MP: Having a variety of spirits, but specifically, ones that are a good value. You don’t need to spend $60 on a bottle of whiskey when there are ones for $40 that are just as good. Get good basics like bitters and good tonic, and keep it simple.
 
DP: Where do you go for a drink when you’re not working?
MP: I love Teresa’s in Wayne. Whether you want good food, a great beer, or a hard to find whiskey, you’ll find it there.
 
 
DP: Are there any distillers and distillieries in Philadelphia you’re a fan of?
MP: I’m a fan of the juice that Andrew Martin at Thistlefinch is producing. Their straight rye is great.
 
DP: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a distiller?
It is not nearly as sexy as you think it’s going to be. It is a lot of hard work and cleaning, and you better have patience.
 

DP: If you could have a drink with any famous person, living or dead, who would it be and what would you drink?
MP: My grandfather used to make wine presses back in the day, and he actually owned the distribution rights to Piels Beer in New York City (which no longer exists). I think he was a Four Roses drinker, so I think he’d really love what I’m doing here.

Photos via Drink Philly


Tags: Behind the Spirit
Recent Articles
spacer

Feedback

How are we doing? Tell us what you like or don't like and how we can improve. We would love to hear your thoughts!

*Name:
*E-mail:
*Suggestions:
 
Get Ready For the Annual Drink Philly Summer Boat Party, July 25

Get Ready For the Annual Drink Philly Summer Boat Party, July 25

On Thursday, July 25, prepare to hoist anchor for a three-hour tour of crazy proportions. We'll sail down the Delaware River in style with a three-hou...read more ›

by Drink Philly Jul 11, 2019
Best Bars for Outdoor Drinking in Philadelphia, 2019

Best Bars for Outdoor Drinking in Philadelphia, 2019

Whether it's to enjoy the first warm breezes of spring or the unexpected sunshine of a crisp day in fall, Philadelphia is full of great places to drin...read more ›

by Drink Philly Apr 11, 2019
SPONSORED
Bloomsday, An All-Day Cafe with a Wine Shop, is Now Open in Headhouse Square

Bloomsday, An All-Day Cafe with a Wine Shop, is Now Open in Headhouse Square

Bloomsday, an all-day cafe with a focus on local, sustainable food and drink that houses its own wine shop, is...read more ›

by Drink Philly Jul 11, 2019
The Best Cocktail Bars in Philadelphia

The Best Cocktail Bars in Philadelphia

Here it is - the definitive list of Philadelphia's best cocktail bars....read more ›

by Drink Philly Dec 13, 2017
Philly's Best Happy Hours: a.kitchen's $25 Bottles of Wine, $8 Spritzes, & $6 Snacks, Seven Days a Week

Philly's Best Happy Hours: a.kitchen's $25 Bottles of Wine, $8 Spritzes, & $6 Snacks, Seven Days a Week

This week, we focused on a.kitchen, the sister restaurant of a.bar which is also located in the heart of Ritte...read more ›

by Drink Philly Jul 10, 2019
Enjoy Neighborhood-Wide Specials, Music, Art, Local Spirits, Great Food, & More at 2nd Saturdays in Northern Liberties

Enjoy Neighborhood-Wide Specials, Music, Art, Local Spirits, Great Food, & More at 2nd Saturdays in Northern Liberties

On the second Saturday of each month, Northern Liberties will now host their monthly 2nd Saturday series from ...read more ›

by Drink Philly Jul 10, 2019
Independence Day 2019: Where to Celebrate July 4th in Philadelphia

Independence Day 2019: Where to Celebrate July 4th in Philadelphia

It's time once again for the Fourth of July, and there's no better place to celebrate than in the city where t...read more ›

by Drink Philly Jul 3, 2019
Jet Wine Bar Opens an Outdoor Wine Garden Next Door on South Street

Jet Wine Bar Opens an Outdoor Wine Garden Next Door on South Street

South Street's Jet Wine Bar now has its very own wine garden right next door to the main bar, located at 1525 ...read more ›

by Drink Philly Jul 3, 2019
Where to Host a Private Event in Philadelphia

Where to Host a Private Event in Philadelphia

Whether it's for the holidays or you have a special birthday coming up, Philadelphia has some amazing options when it comes to event spaces. ...read more ›

by Drink Philly Nov 26, 2018
SPONSORED
View all Articles

Sign up to get weekly drinking news, bar reviews, events and more sent directly to your inbox!

Close