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Taste of the Month: Big Spring Spirits & Chef Mark Johnson of MJ Custom Craft Cooking

by on July 18, 2018 5:00 AM

Big Spring Spirits, located in the historic Match Factory complex in Bellefonte, is excited to partner with chef Mark Johnson of MJ Custom Craft Cooking to offer a locally sourced, seasonally inspired menu Thursdays through Sundays. Working with local purveyors, Johnson changes his menu weekly to incorporate ingredients that not only complement, but enhance the bitters and sweet flavors in the handcrafted cocktail offerings at Big Spring Spirits.

In addition, Johnson’s mainstay menu features roasted shishito peppers with preserved lemon dressing and cayenne pepper salt, pickled local sunchokes, a charcuterie plate with house-made condiment and locally baked Gemelli bread, a tri-tip roast beef sandwich, and MJ’s classic chocolate mousse with Tallyrand whipped cream.

Opened in July 2014 by owner Kevin Lloyd and business partner Paula Cipar, Big Spring Spirits is the first LEED gold-certified distillery in Pennsylvania – the second in the country and third in the world. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, a green-building certification that recognizes advanced-building strategies and practices. It takes into account water efficiency and energy use, occupant health, and comfort.

The 5,000-square-foot distillery is named after the Big Spring in Bellefonte, which was awarded the “best tasting water in the state” by the Pennsylvania Rural Water Association. For $15, a 30-minute tour gives visitors a chance to learn about how the spirits are made, including what ingredients are used, where they are sourced, and the complete “grain-to-glass” process. It also includes a cocktail and a tasting of three spirits of your choice. Tours of the distillery can be booked online at or by calling (814) 353-4478.

Big Spring Spirits now offers 18 spirits, including Big Spring Vodka, Silver Lion White Corn Whiskey, Silver Hare Wheat Whiskey, Straight Rye Whiskey, Rebellion Small Batch 3 Year Aged Rye Whiskey, Talleyrand Cream Bourbon, Seven Governors Gin, Spiced Rum, and Coconut Rum. Tastings are $2.50 for three pours (overall volume of 1 ounce), or $5 for six pours (approximately 2 ounces). With either tasting, $2.50 is credited to the purchase of a bottle.

The epic and descriptive cocktail menu pays homage to the classics, but also teases with fruit-forward concoctions including the Spicy Rainbow Sherbet and the Star Ginger whiskey sour, liquid confections such as the Havana Holiday, and seasonal libations such as the Trailhead. Mixologist Josh Wyka is happy to shake and stir up a classic Manhattan, or  local favorites, including  the Milesburg Mule, the Centrepolitan, and the Talleyrand Russian. Using locally sourced shrubs from Tait Farm Foods and house-made cordials and syrups, these cocktail combinations make it worth taking the time to study the options and find one that surely will satisfy a discerning palate.

The first Wednesday of the month, join casual conversations about science during Big Spring Spirits’ Science Pub. RSVP online for the event and receive a free tap cocktail upon arrival.

For adventurous palates, Johnson and Big Spring Spirits invite diners to an exclusive Sunday Tasting Dinner, a five-course meal that highlights the week’s produce from local farmers markets. Elect to add the optional, harmonious cocktail pairing to complete the VIP experience. It’s the perfect ambiance for a romantic evening in a beautiful setting, with a private chef explaining in detail each carefully executed dish. Reservations for the Sunday Tasting Dinner must be made by the preceding Tuesday.

“Look forward to early corn, tomatoes, and different beans in July,” says Johnson. “I also source some herbs from my own garden. I will be doing some pickling and fermenting of vegetables, smoke some trout from The Seafood Shack in Centre Hall, reaching out to Windswept Farms in State College and Cow-a-Hen Farm in Mifflinburg.” The dates for the upcoming Sunday Tasting Dinners are July  22 and 29.


Talleyrand Russian

2 oz. Big Spring Vodka

2 oz. Coffee-infused simple syrup

1.5 oz. Talleyrand Cream Bourbon

.5 oz. half and half

Toss over ice and serve.


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