What does whiskey have to do with local farming?
Ask Laura Fields, founder of the Delaware Valley Fields Foundation, and she’ll tell you. “American whiskey needs American farmers and vice versa,” she explains. “Bourbon is liquid national pride.”
Laura began the foundation to promote the role and history of local small farming, and to bring attention to the vital role of small farming in our communities.
Local whiskey, local farms
I first met Laura a year and a half ago when I attended one of her Dram Devotees of Bucks County whiskey tasting events. I was very impressed. Bright, engaging, and deeply knowledgeable about whiskey—especially American whiskey—Laura shared and taught us so much, with no pretension or judgment.
Laura’s other passion is helping Pennsylvania distilleries to source their grains from Pennsylvania farmers. Two hundred years ago, this happened naturally. After all, the Whiskey Rebellion in 1791 was led by German immigrant farmers in Western Pennsylvania who used their surplus rye grain to make whiskey.
But the industrialization of agriculture has changed all that. Most distilleries today source their ingredients from other states or countries (Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey in Bristol being one of the local exceptions. They source their grains from Bucks and Lancaster counties.)
Pennsylvania micro distilleries take off
Five years ago, there were four distilleries in Pennsylvania with a limited license (limited to producing 100,000 gallons).
Now, according to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, there are sixty-one, all due to significant changes in Pennsylvania law.
The American Whiskey Convention kicks off in 2016
“Our goal is to help local small farmers,” Laura explains. “Smaller distilleries can and want to buy local. In fact, local farmers can focus on superior seeds and greater variety. Better grains, better spirits, better farm preservation.”
And that’s at the heart of what the foundation wants to achieve. “We need our Pennsylvania distilleries from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to be successful so they can buy from local farmers.”
So in March 2016, Laura organized the 1st Annual American Whiskey Convention at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Over one hundred bourbon and whiskey brands were available for tasting, along with discussion sessions, workshops and expert tastings. It was a blast. (We “discovered” several new favorites, like Kinsey, which comes from Northern Liberties in Philly.)
This year, the event takes place over two days. And the first day is devoted just to Pennsylvania distilleries.
The Pennsylvania Spirits Convention debuts
In March 2017, the Pennsylvania Spirits Convention, the first and largest of its kind, took over the Hall of Fame Club at Citizens Bank Park, paying homage to Pennsylvania spirits and the farmers, craftsmen and distillers behind them.
The Grand Tasting Event featured 110 craft spirits from more than 30 craft-spirit distillers; 40 specialty cocktails made by Philadelphia’s best bartenders; entertaining and educational discussion forums; artisans and craft vendors; local farmers, grain producers, and more.
Nearly every craft-spirit distillery in Pennsylvania was represented. Attendees sampled whiskeys, gins, brandies, vodkas, rums, barrel finished spirits, and cordials from distilleries across the state, including: Boyd and Blair (Pittsburgh), Social Still (Bethlehem), Bluebird Distilling (Phoenixville), Barrel 21 Distillery (State College), Old Republic Distillery (York), Stateside Urbancraft Vodka (Philadelphia), and Manatawny Still Works (Pottstown). See the full list of distillers here.
“The magnitude of the response across our state by distillers and all related industries has been phenomenal. We are honored that so many craft distilleries [joined us],” Laura says.
The largest all-American whiskey event in the U.S.
On Friday, March 24, 2017, the 2nd Annual American Whiskey Convention, the largest all-American whiskey event in the country, returned to Citizens Bank Park featuring a wide variety of whiskeys including Wild Turkey, Bulleit Frontier Whiskey, Sazerac Rye, Maker’s Mark, Booker’s, Russell’s Reserve, and others, made from different grains, varying ages, production processes, and taste profiles.
Attendees interacted with whiskey experts, distillers, malters and farmers during multiple intimate seminar tastings and discussion forums.
Whiskey-world heavyweights Lew Bryson, Fred Minnick, Noah Rothbaum, Tyler Gomez-Basauri, and Wild Turkey’s Master Distiller Jimmy Russell were on-site to impart their wisdom and knowledge.