One Tank Trip: Mason Dixon Distillery


After the battles it's known for, Gettysburg went through a recovery and got back in business.

In the early 1900s, the Gettysburg Furniture Company factory on East Water Street was one of three furniture manufacturers in town. It closed in the 50s and wouldn't see its second shot at life until two years ago.

"We're at Mason Dixon Distillery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania," said Yianni Barakos, the distillery's president.

The spirits are made from scratch on site. The grain is farmed on the battlefield and hand-bottled. A tour starts with a taste and then Barakos or his father, George, will take you behind the scenes.

"You're getting the same bones, but depending on who gives you the tour, it's vastly different," Yianni said. "You could take the tour several times and get a different tour every time."

They both, however, start with the same story that takes us back to when Yianni was 11. It's when he built his first still, after his grandfather, who was a coppersmith in Greece, sketched one out for him on a napkin. Yianni was hoping to recreate it, but what he built caught fire.

"Rocket fuel. He was making grappa. We call it tsipouro, made with grapes or grape juice," George said. "That's what he was making in the garage."

Instead of a lecture, George bought his son an electric hot plate and told him to keep it outside. A little encouragement for that long-ago moonshine turned into a business more than 20 years later.

"That gurgling is the CO2 being released from my fermentation tanks as the yeast eats the sugar and burps out carbon dioxide and alcohol," Yianni said. "The CO2 needs somewhere to go."

You'll see the process from grain to glass. Yianni said there are two versions of the tour: a fly-over, which gives you the basics, and then the nerdy version with all the scientific details. It's all made in an almost-10,000-square-foot factory, which used to be the employer for a significant portion of the population of Gettysburg.

"The character here is amazing," Yianni said. "The generations of people that have livelihoods here, all rooted in manufacturing, and to be able to bring back a business that's centered in manufacturing is very cool, chill-inducing. Gives me goosebumps every time I say it."

It's why, he said, he tries to keep it local, just beyond the battlefield.

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