Lemoyne distillery founded in honor of couple's sonDead Lightning will be part of Coakley's redevelopment in New Cumberland
New Cumberland residents Andrea and Eric Montgomery wanted to keep their late son's spirit alive, so they started a distillery.
Skyler Montgomery, described by his parents as a cool kid who was full of life and always there to help friends and family, was a welder by trade. The 6-foot-7 Cedar Cliff graduate also liked to make moonshine.
He had conversations with his parents three months before his accidental death about starting a distillery. He died May 30, 2016, at the age of 21.
Shortly after his death, plans for the distillery began to take shape. In March, Dead Lightning Distillery, based in Lemoyne, received state and federal approvals for its production facility.
The name Dead Lightning is inspired by rock band The Grateful Dead and the nickname for moonshine, white lightning.
The distillery is still in the process of getting its recipes and bottle labels approved by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
It will operate as a limited distillery, a licensing category created in 2012 in Pennsylvania for small producers. They are capped at making 100,000 gallons per year. The full distillery license requires production of at least 100,000 gallons per year, which kept most aspiring distillers out of the business.
Andrea Montgomery is planning to introduce the new craft distillery to her family's hometown this winter.
Skyler's best friend, Tom Gribb, built and will run the distilling system that Dead Lightning will use to make its rum and vodka products. Montgomery's goal is to eventually sell 21 different products in honor of her son.
Dead Lightning is planning a soft opening in February as part of redevelopment efforts at the site of the former Coakley’s Restaurant and Irish Pub, a longtime borough establishment closed by bankruptcy in 2014.
The new distillery will make its products in Lemoyne in a space owned by the Montgomerys. The Bridge Street location in New Cumberland, a former Coakley's cigar bar, will serve as a retail tasting room. A grand opening for the tasting room is slated for March 3, she said.
Hours of operation are still being worked out, but the tasting room is expected to be open Thursday through Sunday.
Dead Lightning plans to sell three styles of rum — a white, a spiced and an oak-aged rum — along with flavored vodka products. The vodka products will be branded as Local Legend.
Montgomery said Dead Lightning also will serve Pennsylvania craft beer, wine products and cocktails featuring its own spirits, making it a good fit for the established bars and restaurants in New Cumberland. She wants the distillery to play a role in the borough's revitalization.
Dead Lightning also plans to serve some lighter pub food, such as tacos and other handheld items, she said.
Over the next five years, Montgomery said she hopes to expand Dead Lightning into a larger production and warehouse facility. There are no plans to try to sell the company's spirits through the state liquor system, she said.
For now, she said she's just thankful to have so many friends and family supporting the new business venture. The Montgomerys hope to make their son proud. His name is etched into the copper still as a daily reminder.