Thirty-six years ago at the Cumberland Life Festival, a rite of passage for Greencastle-Antrim Middle School eighth-graders, George Simmers and two friends built and operated a still. Now, he is poised to open the first licensed distillery in Franklin County since Prohibition.
Cold Spring Hollow Distillery will open to the public at 8 Findlay Drive on the west end of Mercersburg for the first time later this summer.
"I can still see in my head the book report I did," Simmers recalled about the research part of his 1983 Cumberland Life Festival project. The report included information on moonshine and the process involved in making it.
His father provided two 55-gallon drums and copper tubing, which Dirk Rockwell, Bryan Crider and Simmers set up at Tayamentasachta. They picked mint in the garden, added water, processed it and pure mint extract came out the other side of the still.
Simmers started making beer in the late 1980s and switched to making wine in the 1990s. He began the process of opening a distillery in 2015, noting "it's not an overnight thing," requiring state and federal licenses.
The craft distillery is both his exit plan for when he retires as an IT specialist with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a legacy for his sons, William Simmers, 17, who just graduated from Chambersburg Area Senior High School, and Austin Simmers, 22, of Greencastle, as well as his 1-year-old grandson, Wiley Simmers.
A 1987 graduate of Greencastle-Antrim High School, Simmers also has a background in the cell phone and jewelry industries. He is the son of Ed Simmers Sr. of Winchester, Virginia, and Margie Rutkowski, who lives with him in Chambersburg.
The distillery is Simmers' idea and he describes himself as the front man backed by partners and investors, Todd Appleby of Greencastle, a lifelong friend, and Sam Shatzer and Chris Paretti, both of Chambersburg.
"It's been a whole lot of years of trial and error, research and reading ... there's more of a science behind this than you can imagine," said Simmers, who also spent a week at Moonshine University in Kentucky.
Part of the science starts at the place for which the distillery is named — Cold Spring Hollow, above Bear Valley near Fort Loudon.
"It's a place where the water starts in the mountain, it's the best source of water," Simmers said.
The calcium in the limestone-rich water is the secret. Yeast thrives on calcium so it does not have to work as hard in the distillation process, he explained.
Tours can be booked for the distillery room, filled with gleaming Hungarian-made Hagyo equipment, which Simmers can operate with a laptop or phone app and is 100 percent self-cleaning.
Take a taste
To get what he wanted, he had to buy the equipment made in Hungary, but Simmers tries to do as much local business as possible, for example using field corn grown near Greencastle.
GearHouse, a brewery in Chambersburg, loaned two small fermenters to the distillery. GearHouse beer will be available in the tasting room, along with Roy Pitz and Troegs and local wines.
Patrons will be able to purchase cocktails made with Cold Spring Hollow Distillery whiskey, bourbon, rum, vodka, gin and moonshine in Simmers Spirits custom flavors such as butterscotch sip & shine, apple dumpling, sweet fire (cinnamon), citron, cherry and root beer.
The tasting room has a rustic feel with exposed wood and reclaimed bar tin on the walls, and windows for viewing the distilling equipment. There is no kitchen, but Simmers is working with food trucks to set up shop and arranging small plates deliveries from local restaurants.
The exterior of the former dance studio has been transformed with hemlock and stone.
Simmers is allowed up to five locations in Pennsylvania and can self-distribute to restaurants and clubs.
Cold Spring Hollow Distillery will be open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. For more information, visit:
This article has been updated because the original opening date of Saturday, June 29 has been postponed.