New business owners shine

Slippery Rock residents turn passion into profit, opening a moonshine distillery in town

Published by Layla Joseph, Date: April 19, 2023
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Two Slippery Rock residents launched Steele Mill, downtown’s newest attraction, in March, opening their doors as a gathering place for community members and students alike to indulge in unique flavors with the drinks they serve and the food they prepare. 

The owners, Annessa and Jeff Steele, live in Slippery Rock Borough. 

Annessa was originally from Butler and is an education professor at The Rock. Her husband Jeff is a fourth-generation Slippery Rock resident.

Most of the staff are Slippery Rock University students, including their daughter, Alexandra, who is a senior at SRU.

When the building on the corner of Main Street and Franklin Street went up for sale in 2021, the couple said the opportunity to buy the property drove their desire to start the business. 

“It kind of all just fell together,” Jeff said. 

Annessa said that the two fell in love with the building and the front windows that came with it. The pair said when refurbishing the building’s interior, they drew inspiration from distilleries they have visited while traveling in the Midwest.

According to Jeff, they tried to repurpose materials that came with the building, including the wood paneling behind the bar and the metal material covering the back wall. The couple preserved the original wood floor of the building that served as the post office in the 1920s. 

Their website says that the business emphasizes the value of sustainability, and their kitchen uses local ingredients whenever possible. Steele Mill is the only moonshine distillery in Butler County that allows for on-site consumption. 

Jeff said he has been around moonshine manufacturing for a lot of his life; his cousin runs a successful, multi-generational distillery in West Virginia. 

The couple has made moonshine a hobby long before they knew it would become profitable. Prior to opening Steele Mill, Annessa and Jeff both owned the license to make moonshine and had over ten years of experience making drinks behind the bar.

With the license they have, Steele Mill can sell anything that is produced, brewed or distilled in Pennsylvania, according to Jeff. This means patrons who would rather stick to their comfort zone rather than try one of their hand-crafted selections can choose from the 12 Pennsylvania beers on tap. 

When creating a menu, the couple put full faith in their chef and tackled the drink selection together.  

On Friday they had drink specials named after football coaches at SRU to celebrate the Green and White Spring Game. In addition to their regular drinks, they served mixed drinks like “Lutz Lemonade,” “Moose’s Drinking Water” and “The Raspberry Razzano” to commemorate the coaches and celebrate after the game.

Steele Mill embraces both the university and the community of Slippery Rock. Jeff said that he was involved in youth sports at Slippery Rock as a player and a coach for many years, and now their two youngest kids are involved in youth sports. He and Annessa wanted to give back to the community: For each serving of Rocket Fuel, a cinnamon moonshine, the business donates a portion of the sale to the Slippery Rock youth sports program. 

The business is currently operating from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday with a DJ on Fridays and live music on Saturdays. The couple says they hope to extend their hours this summer as they get a handle on staffing and production. 

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