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Lehigh alum opens first Allentown distillery since prohibition

IBE program assisting in growth of Anthony Brichta's County Seat Spirits

In October 2012, Anthony Brichta ’04, ‘05G was helping a fellow alum celebrate his 30th birthday at a place that would spark his entrepreneurial spirit – a craft distillery in Brooklyn. Less than three years later, Brichta, a practicing lawyer, is making rum, gin, bourbon and vodka of his own.

Along with his uncle, John Rowe, a pilot and former air traffic controller, Brichta has founded County Seat Spirits in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It is the first distillery in that city since the days of Prohibition.

“Craft distilling is still relatively new,” said Brichta, as he provided a tour of his distillery, tucked inside a former Mack Trucks assembly plant that has been reimagined as a business enterprise center. “There are some parallels to [the growth of] craft brewing. People are looking for different flavors, different types of products and more local products. We believe there’s a strong market.”

County Seat Spirits operates in 1,000 square feet of space in the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center in Allentown, a city undergoing a renaissance of its own. Its neighbors are a microbrewery and The Colony Meadery, a craft meadery co-founded by Greg Heller-LaBelle ’10. It was Heller-LaBelle who helped direct Brichta to the Bridgeworks, where the distillery can receive business support and guidance.

To help strengthen and grow his distillery, Brichta is working with a team of seven students from Lehigh’s Integrated Business and Engineering Program (IBE), who could ultimately provide Brichta with recommendations on how to better market County Seat Spirits or more efficiently produce its products.

The IBE program, offered jointly by the College of Business and Economics and the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, integrates courses in business and engineering with additional course requirements. When Brichta pitched County Seat Spirits as a potential assignment for the students, it proved to be one of the most popular. Students are looking into everything from barrel aging and still design, to sales and marketing, to more efficient use of resources, including water.

“We’re here to help him,” said Robert Storer ’16, a member of the IBE team that is conducting research into distilleries to share best practices. “I hope we can make a difference in his company. I hope he will grow at a more rapid pace."

Brichta, who received his bachelor’s in political science and economics and his master’s in politicial science at Lehigh, is part of a Lehigh family. His father, two sisters and a brother are graduates. His father, Bill Brichta ’76, ’81G, ’10G also worked at Lehigh in information technology.

“We hope that [customers] end up getting a product that they can be proud to drink, proud to support," Brichta explained, "and that also tastes better than what they’re drinking now.”

For those eager to try County Seat Spirits, the distillery offers tours and tastings on weekends. Visitors can buy bottles of its liquors, or a cocktail made with them. The spirits also are available at the minor league baseball Coca-Cola Park and the Hamilton Bar & Kitchen, both in Allentown.

Read the full story at the Lehigh University News Center.

-Mary Ellen Alu is an assistant editor with the Lehigh University Office of Communications.

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