Distillery Helps Sustain Jefferson County's Rural Economy
Bloomery Sweetshine Distillery located in Jefferson County has attracted around 50,000 tourists since it opened in 2011. While Jefferson County has been called the leader in tourism and economic impact in the state, some say the rural economy is struggling, and this distillery could be helping to revive it.
Allison Manderino is one of the fun-tenders, or bartenders, at the Bloomery Sweetshine Distillery. She drives two-in-a-half hours every weekend from Pennsylvania to the eastern panhandle just to work weekends serving drinks.
“You ask anyone here who works here, we all have the same answer, we all love each other," said Manderino, "and Tom and Linda, our owners, we want them to succeed so much that we will do whatever we need. And if that means that, you know, I drive and live in a different state every weekend, that’s okay. I’ll do it, because I want to see this through, and I know we’re going places, and I just want to help them get there in whatever way I can.”
Bloomery Sweetshine Distillery began after co-founders, Linda Losey and Tom Keifer went on a trip to Italy in 2010. While there, they tasted Limoncello, a very popular lemon liqueur and wanted to replicate it once back in the US. After scouting out various locations, they found a rural spot in Charles Town, where they began to build their business in an old bloomery, or ironworks mill, from the 1700s that was in disrepair.
“So we thought, why not settle in West Virginia," remembered Losey, "and I came out here, and I texted Tom, I’m like, I’m going to meet the craigslist killer, and he said where are you and what are you doing, and I said, don’t worry if I like it, you’re in trouble, if I don’t like it, it’s no worries. And I liked it, and so here we are, on 12 acres in Charles Town, West Virginia, growing lemons and Hawaiian ginger and raspberries and black walnuts and pumpkins.”
Losey says she’s amazed at the success of the distillery in such a short time, but attributes that success to the fun-tenders who always try to connect to each patron individually and make each customer feel welcome.
“Everybody brings their own sort of quirkiness to the team," Losey noted, "and if you come and get a tasting on a Friday and have one fun-tender, and you come back in on a Saturday, you’re going to get a completely different experience.”
Tom Keifer, the other co-founder, says he thinks it’s the naturalness of the product that’s attractive and keeps bringing in customers.
“Because we have only whole ingredients, there’s nothing artificial, no coloring, no dyes, no flavors, anything like that," Keifer said, "And there’s this robustness that comes with that. I mean when you taste the ginger you’ll see, I mean, it tastes like liquid ginger root, and when you taste our pumpkin spice, it tastes like grandma’s pumpkin pie. It’s just awesome.”
Bloomery Sweetshine Distillery grows most of its ingredients on-site, but since its products are in such high demand, it gets some ingredients locally in Charles Town and Martinsburg, but some come from farmers as far away as California.
It’s open only four days a week, but the owners say they average 300 customers every weekend. Their products have won American and International awards, and have seen at least one tourist from every state in the US, as well as a handful of other countries.
Annette Gavin is the CEO of the Jefferson County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. She says the distillery is definitely making an impact on Jefferson County’s economy.
“They didn’t just decide to do this, develop it, and, you know, wait for people to come. They market it; they market the heck out of it. You know, they get out there, and it’s literally stomping the pavement to let people know,” said Gavin.
Gavin also says the Distillery is in a perfect location being so close to Washington, DC and Baltimore.
With an array of flavors to choose from and an ever growing number in tourists, the Bloomery Sweetshine Distillery continues to do well in Jefferson County.