Tommy Alfinito’s small-batch distillery will cater to customers 21 and older, with craft spirits and cocktails in a refined lounge atmosphere.
By Matt Skoufalos | May 17, 2023
When Tommy Alfinito first moved into Haddonfield more than eight years ago, he’d walk his dogs down Kings Highway, admire the architecture, and daydream.
His favorite building to see was always the historic Jennings House at 236 Kings Highway.
Next Friday, Alfinito will open the borough’s first distillery and cocktail lounge within it.
The project, Wildfether Distilling, is more than two years in the making, and the layout of the Jennings House has changed significantly since Alfinito’s earliest plans for the space.
Yet the result became “this harmony of what we needed,” during the fit-out, he said.
“Production space, bar space, seating; as we were really working, everything clicked together,” Alfinito said.
The interior design beckons a tension between the history of the space and the novelty of its current use. Complex patterned tiling and contemporary wallpaper play against exposed brick and timber salvaged from the interior walls.
Its Art Deco bar furniture and lighting fixtures recall a classic cocktail lounge aesthetic, and strict 21-and-older entry policy ensures an adult atmosphere.
Wildfether’s first floor features a small lounge built around a quartz bartop lined in reclaimed wood, with a viewing window into the distilling operations.
“We didn’t want you to walk into the Jennings House, which was built in 1857, and into a completely new interior,” Alfinito said, “but we wanted it to be really nice at the same time.”
At the top of the stairs, guests step into a sizeable room with bar and café seating, lounge nooks overlooking Kings Highway, and a high-backed loveseat booth that Alfinito describes as “a little date night spot.”
A secondary second-floor room offers additional shared seating, and opens up to a rooftop deck with a view of Haddonfield Borough Hall next door. In all, Wildfether can accommodate 76 guests inside the building, and another 30 outdoors at its front, back, and second-story porches.
The Wildfether cocktail menu is the work of bar manager Ethan Sherman, who devised what Alfinito describes as “a complete menu,” with recipes that play on classic cocktails ranging from $13 to $16 apiece.
Guests may enjoy a watermelon gimlet, a rye-and-root beer highball, or a floral whisky sour; a vodka bay breeze with tropical flavors, a strawberry rhubarb vodka sour, and espresso and marshmallow martinis.
Sherman will make the bases for each of the drinks in-house, and although the menu will change seasonally, Alfinito said guests can feel free to order traditional and off-menu cocktails as well.
The distinction between enjoying those cocktails at the distillery and at a bar is, of course, the house-made, small-batch alcohol at their core. Wildfether also retails its alcohol in 375-mL bottles: $15 for vodka, $20 for gin, and $30 for bourbon.
Younger spirits like vodka and gin are made with wheat grain neutral spirit (GNS), and don’t require as much aging to maximize their flavors; whisky, about which Alfinito is most passionate, takes longer to mature.
Wildfether-crafted bourbons, ryes, and whiskys are a year or longer away; until such time, Alfinito will distill and bottle rye and bourbon sourced from Florida and Indiana.
“We’re going to use 15-gallon barrels to start our first few batches; we’re hoping that will be out in a year,” Alfinito said.
“The rest will be in 30-gallons, and that will be two-plus years before we crack those.
“We’re doing so many things that the big people won’t do because it’s not efficient,” he said.
“We’re just trying to make the best-tasting whisky.”
To that end, Wildfether spirits will be built around heirloom grain varieties that will be pulled out via centrifuge prior to fermentation in its dual, 400-gallon wooden vessels. The resulting product will be a lower-proof alcohol intended to emphasize flavors over intensity.
“I like the style that [recipe] comes out with,” Alfinito said. “Most bourbon, you carry the corn along the whole way; pulling it out, there’s a lot more nuance and delicate flavor profiles that come with that. We’d love to have it bottled at barrel proof, so everything you’re tasting has been aged that entire time.”
Wildfether is still in the works of ramping up for a May 26 opening date, but Alfinito said the early buzz around the business has been inspiring to everyone working to bring the project to its debut.
“We’ve had so much support; so many people knocking on the door saying, ‘When are you opening?’” he said.
“We want to give everyone a quality experience, but we might have some long lines; if it’s crazy, give us a little patience.”
Whatever the future holds for Wildfether, Alfinito said he’s excited to contribute to the revitalization of downtown Haddonfield.
“When the [Kings Road] brewery opened, that was when the whole main street started to change.
“I got to see that transformation, so [Wildfether] was a big part of wanting to be a part of that,” he said — “making a main street where you can go and hang out for the night, get really good food, have a drink, and go shopping.
“You don’t have to leave town now to do those things,” Alfinito said.
Wildfether Distilling is located at 236 Kings Highway East in Haddonfield. Initial hours of operation will be 4 to 10 p.m. Thursday, 3 to 11 p.m. Friday, 12 noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, and 12 noon to 7 p.m. Sunday.
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