Ep. 67 - When Pennsylvania Ruled American Whisky
PRE-PROHIBITION // Laura Fields of the American Whiskey Convention helps us dig into Pennsylvania Pure Rye and the origins of American whiskey
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Thanks to Steve Bashore of George Washington's Distillery, I had a chance to meet Laura Fields of the Fields Foundation and American Whiskey Convention. Her passionate devotion to recovering the lost history of Pennsylvania distilling is truly inspiring.
Before Kentucky, there was Monongahela Rye and it didn't die out long before Prohibition, instead, it died at the same time Kentucky did. But after Prohibition, Kentucky took over the narrative for American whiskey and Pennsylvania all but forgot its history. In this episode, we aim to change that as we go back to the very origins of Pennsylvania's distilling history.
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Welcome to Whiskey Lore, the interviews, I'm your host Drew Hannush, the Amazon bestselling author of whiskey LO's travel guide to experience in Kentucky bourbon. And today I am honored to have, as my guest, Laura Fields, the founder of the Delaware valley fields foundation, a nonprofit organization aimed at supporting Pennsylvania agriculture. And she is also the founder of the American whiskey convention. And thanks to Steve Bayshore of George Washington's distillery for getting us in touch with each other. Actually we talked on the phone the first time about rye whiskey, and I think we talked for about two hours. Yeah. <Laugh> and we probably could have kept talking a, a whole lot longer mm-hmm <affirmative> and so I'm sure at some point we will do an episode around rye whiskey, cuz that's a passion of yours and mine, but in this particular episode today, we're gonna talk about Pennsylvania's distilling history. So Laura, welcome to the show.
Hi, how's it going? <Laugh> good to
Talk to you again. It's it's going good. <Laugh> nice to, nice to finally have you here. And and, and be able to dig into some of these stories about about Pennsylvania distilling, because to me it is a part of American whiskey history that is really not talked about enough and there's a lot of misinformation floating around about it. So we're gonna cover a lot of that stuff into to today's episode. But I wanted to also have you tell us a little bit about the American whiskey convention and kind of your purpose for that and and what it's all about?
Sure. I mean, you mentioned that that I founded the Delaware valley fields foundation which yes, we focus on agriculture, but one of my main focuses is actually being kind of a conduit between distillers and farmers because distillers need grain farmers wanna grow it, but they need buyers. The two, however, have very little knowledge of one another. And so I kind of help bridge that gap and bring people together so they can, you know, figure out what they need from one another. And the whiskey convention, the American whiskey convention in Philadelphia was actually born out of that because I also found that in all of my endeavoring to promote all of these whiskey grains I found that consumers didn't know anything about it. You know, they drink the whiskey and they don't ever connect it to being an agricultural product, which it very much is.
So having the whiskey convention, the way I set it up is I have distillers, you know, we have about 60 different distillers from around the country and intermittent between them, our farmers, Millers maltsters small business owners that participate in the whiskey industry and benefit from being there obviously. And all of our sponsors are associated with whiskey. So the event, yes, is very much for the consumer who comes to taste all of these amazing whiskeys, all American whiskeys, by the way, there's no scotch, no Irish, no Canadian, all American though. There is some possibly sourced from Canada, but the products themselves are American made bottled products. But yeah, I mean the consumer ends up ha kind of being educated gorilla style <laugh>, you know? Yeah, yeah. They come for the whiskey, but they leave knowing a great deal, more about agriculture than they came in the door knowing.
And that's, that's the idea because, you know, I can't benefit farmers. If consumers don't start asking questions about where their grain comes from, you know, you go into the distillery and how many I ask distillers all the time and how many people ask you about your, your mash bill? And of course they ask about the mash bill, but do they ask questions about the Nashville? You know, do they wanna know who grows your grain? And we're starting to find out that, you know, now that the convention is, you know, kind of roll a snowballing, you know, and becoming larger every year, that there are more consumers that are more cognizant of that and start asking questions. So that's one, that's my goal.
I, I think now the more that people start talking about terwar yes. And, and taking that from being a wine terminology, mm-hmm <affirmative>, and now applying that to whiskey and you hear it a lot more in podcasts and, and it's starting to resonate with certain distillers who are more than happy to talk about it. Then I think that is gonna start probably helping the consumer. Of course, you always have two grades of consumer. You have the one who just wants to drink whiskey. You have the other one who really wants to know their whiskey, but I think that think you can wanting to know their whiskey. Yeah. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> is, is growing quite a bit, cuz it is, it is fascinating. It's not just something to grab a bottle of on a Saturday night. It's something that you can actually sit with. And as we'll talk about with Pennsylvania rye, which I have one behind me that I'm doing some tasting on now that, you know, you can taste something of the area where that particular spirit comes from and that, that makes it new, which is more interesting,
Which is, you know, I think why the argument keeps coming up it's because, you know, if all you're doing is drinking, you know, the same old whiskeys that have been around forever. No, you're not going to have terwar in your whiskey. <Laugh> you're going to have, you know I call it hamburger grain because you know, the, the grain comes from many multiple different places and is put into kind of one storage facility and is drawn from there. So you'd never quite know exactly what type of grain you're getting. You just are getting it, you know, like hamburger <laugh>. But and that's not terwar. But when you do have distillers working hand in hand with farmers and you have farmers growing on very different soil with very different micro climates, even within my state, we have, you know, dozens of micro climates or more even. I mean, I grow my rise or RO with farmers that I work with grow Thery I certainly don't. But when they grow, they have to do soil samples and testing and, you know, rainfall oil comes into it. I mean, all of these things create these very special little plots of land that change the grain and create very different flavor profiles in the final berries. So
Yeah, well, that's gonna affect that's fun of, yeah. That is the fun of tasting nowadays. Like I say, I think one of the reasons why I fell in love with Ry whiskey was because being a fan of scotch scotch has a really wide flavor profile, which is something that when I started drinking bourbon until we started getting into finished bourbons and, and the rest it, it was a lot harder for me to do tastings because the, the flavors, there were flavors that were sweeter flavors that I didn't normally wanna seek out, like you know, vanilla caramel, that Oak component that comes in. You're gonna find that in a lot of different bourbons mm-hmm <affirmative>, but those aren't necessarily flavors that I'm always trying to seek out because they're, so they're a little more common in your diet, you know, versus once you start jumping into rye whiskey or high rye bourbons, you start getting this, her urbanly sense or an earthy sense or floral, you know yeah.
A floral sense. And, and then all of a sudden you start to realize that there's personality in that grain. And in opening up that door, it got me interested now in all these heirloom corns that are out there, everybody's not using the same corn anymore and that you can actually find different flavors in the different types of corn. So it's like I had to try to figure out bourbon. I went to rye, rye expanded my vision on what grain was doing, and now I can go back to bourbon and go, you know, bourbon's from different states doing very different things. And and it opens up a lot of opportunity for the pallet.
Yeah. I mean, Rye's called the flavor grain for a reason. Right. You know? Right. Like Kentucky's always bragging about corn, but you know, why call it the flavor grain? You know, if it's not the thing entirely supplying your whiskey with flavor, <laugh>, you know, right. The corn is there mostly for, you know, the ethanol and you know, the alcohol content. So that's great. And sometimes I suppose the corn does supply a little bit of mouth feel, but really your flavor's coming from the rye. So yeah. That's and you know, I mean, you have, you tasted a bunch of the different heritage varietals that are out there now.
Yeah. New bloody butcher corn, the baby blue corn out in Texas. Sure. Very, very different yeah.
Night, day. Yeah. We really need to get down to, I know that you, you said Steve Bayshore is the person that introduced us, but the work that he's doing with heritage grains right now. And you know, the fact that he used Rosen and he's used orange Creole, corn, and he's used WPSI valley and he is used, you know bear, barley, all these different things that he's using in these really old school traditional well, you know, everything there is old school and traditional, but incorporating these heritage grains is really gonna just rocket this stuff right out of the field. So
A absolutely. And it's all good for us. Yes. We get to taste it all. So exactly. So what got you interested in Pennsylvania's whiskey history?
Oh God. I suppose I I've always been the kind of person that loves rabbit holes. Anytime I'm studying something, I just, I go kind of, <laugh> fully into things. I don't know how to do things in a small way. So when I got into, you know, learning about the history of bourbon and, you know, reading all my books and, and all the, the, every single new book that was coming out, I just inhaled it. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> but then I realized that the more interesting books were the ones that I was finding in the used book shops, you know, where they had books from the seventies. Then I was getting books from the forties books, from the thirties books, from, you know, the, the the still distillers guides and stuff like that from way back. And then I started researching old newspaper articles and things like, and so it just, every single time I opened a door, there was another one behind it. And the, yeah, it led me to Pennsylvania where I lived, which was thrilling because it's the work that I was doing. And you know, you can't stop because there's always a new thing to find <laugh> or learn about, especially in Pennsylvania, because you know, most of the whiskey history that you read out there is all about bourbon, because that's where all of our heads are at, because that's where American whiskey is, or has been since really since prohibition. But yeah. When you realize that everything in Kentucky came from here yeah, it's,
It really kind of opens the door, but then, you know, as I began to do research, I found that there was none to be had, you know, there's a couple tropes out there about Pennsylvania whiskey. There's a couple you know, people mention it because they'll, you know, when they're talking about bourbon, they have to talk about rye because, you know, rye came first. So they're like, well, you know, there was rye. And then there was this revelation that was bourbon. And it's like, but you know, rye was around for 150 years before. So, you know, somebody's gotta talk about it so that, you know, I started digging and digging and digging and, and I couldn't stop. And then I realized, you know one of the things that I needed to do in order to really tell the story of Pennsylvania whiskey was to study the individual distilleries themselves.
So I started researching each individual distillery basically that existed around the time of say like AF post civil war, cuz that's where all the records are. So mostly around the 1860s through to prohibition any distillery, okay. That was existing really around 1880, I wrote about. And so I've written about 200 different distilleries in Pennsylvania which I plan to publish. As soon as I can, you know, get everything organized. Cause I do have them all written. Now it just needs to kinda <laugh> get put together in a coherent way. But yeah, the, the individual distilleries and telling those individual stories are incredibly important because these are real people, you know, that, that had their own individual styles and their own way of doing things, their own mash bills, their own Ashe, Bill's their own family histories incredible stories, you know, murder, mayhem. <Laugh> like all these crazy, the things that, that I would read when I'm like digging through these articles and, and family ancestry histories, and I it's amazing stuff. So yeah, once you start getting there, you just can't stop
<Laugh> well, the challenge, and I know because I I'm working on Tennessee right now and, and there are time periods that are easier to research than others. Absolutely.
And, and so I am finding in Tennessee that the time period from about 1794 to 1801 mm-hmm <affirmative> is covered mm-hmm <affirmative> and the reason it's covered is thanks to Alexander Hamilton. We can, we can say all the negative things we wanna say about the guy, but we wouldn't have documentation on how many farmers were distilling and how many stills they had sure. How many bushels they were using and you know, what they were paying in taxes. And so that becomes very interesting, but then it disappears again. Right. And then it's really not till post-Civil war, when again, a tax comes along mm-hmm <affirmative> and there's a need to have to track that tax mm-hmm <affirmative>. And so you start getting more information, then you start having distilleries numbered, which helps break down some of those, those issues. So it's kinda like, it would be fantastic to know what happened between, and there's, there's a pocket in there during the war of 18, 12, the tax came back.
So, right. I, I ha I have found that in certain cases you can find a little bit of information in there too, but there's this big gap where we have to kind of piece things together. So it it'll be interesting talking with you about, you know, how you are finding this information because you know, I'm thinking, yes, I could run down, I could go find tax records on, on this and that up to prohibition and then post prohibition. Right. But but it is that time, first of all, in Pennsylvania, we're going all the way back into the mid 17 hundreds and likely before that. Right. In terms of distilling. So how, how far back have you been able to, to get started with this?
Well, like I said the stuff that I'm really knowledgeable about is post-Civil war for all the reasons you just described. But my, obviously you can't stop there because you gotta know what happened before then. So most of the information comes from different angles, you know? I try and approach it. You can't just look for whiskey, you can't look like for just distillers. You kind of read between the lines in a lot of research, so, you know, researching railroads and coal because anybody who's distilling needs certain things waterways, right. Mills. there has been an intense amount of scrutiny and research done around mills because there's milling societies there's, you know, so they are a wealth of knowledge. That's what led me to Steve Bayshore. But there there's a, a milling society in Pennsylvania. So every time I get a chance, if there's a mill that's been restored, oh my God I'll pick that guy's brain for a week.
Just like, you know, well, who else was around here and what other mills were on this R because there's never one mill there's. Yeah. You know, one of the things that we take for granted now is that, you know, there's no mills anymore, but before there were large populations in the areas where we live there were waterways, everywhere. Canals are not canals, but creeks and, and all of these different waterways existed in a much more prolific way than they do now. What happened is all of the water was rerouted because housing complexes went, you know, and, and, and neighborhoods and, and cities needed to redirect water supplies. So all of these creeks, which we think of as being little, strictly creeks were one day very busy, you know, heavy water, moving through creeks and, and waterways. Yeah. The rivers were really giant rivers, you know, powerful waterways.
So we miss that now, you know, we also miss travel. So, you know, looking at documentation of sales, you know, who's, who's selling what to whom <laugh>, you know? Yeah. And what waterways are they using to transport their goods? Cuz usually whiskey is always connected to coal. That's how you end up with that huge business relationship that exists between or existed and still exists to some extent between Pittsburgh and new Orleans because those coal families and all that money all the metal, the steel that was that built bridges over the, the Mississippi river. Yeah, that all came from Pittsburgh. So, you know, learning the history of iron or, and construction and different construction companies that were building with those things. They were all whiskey men because the whiskey funded their endeavors. So, and we, we tend to forget that, that, you know, the money came from somewhere, you know, <laugh> yeah, we taught everybody always is, is willing to admit that, you know, whiskey was currency, you know, people used whiskey to buy goods.
Well, yes. And then they were very wealthy and whiskey <laugh> and then what did they do with that? And how did they apply it to their other businesses? And when you were a whiskey maker there was this kind of vertical integration to your business. So you didn't just have whiskey, you needed fuel. So maybe you had a logging business or maybe you had, you know, cuz distilleries were always built next to mills. So they were all very often Millers. I mean that, what I'm trying to say is that the research is never directed at whisking.
Well, I think that you bring up an interesting point because maybe the best starting point in those early days was finding the mill. Yes. Because not every farmer had the ability to mill their own grain, so they would have to take it somewhere mm-hmm <affirmative> and likely they were doing some bartering at that point. Mm-Hmm, <affirmative> bringing some whiskey in mm-hmm <affirmative> and, you know, taking their grain home with them and, and that whole barter system going on the question is, was anybody keeping records on that? But that, this is what I find really interesting about looking at the records for Tennessee is that you start to realize that in those really early days, at the end of the 17 hundreds and beginning of the 18 hundreds, that it was really mostly farmer distillers, right. That you had so many farmer distillers and you had very few what we think of today as companies making whiskey.
And that when I was doing my research on the story that I did around the whiskey rebellion, I found that very fascinating, that part of the, you know, we get this impression that George Washington's on horseback and he's riding out there and he's, he's got soldiers and they're all putting down this huge rebellion. And in reality, it was just a bunch of farmers who said, we can't pay our tax because Alexander Hamilton wants us to pay it in cash. And that's not the way that we barter. Right. But yet Alexander Hamilton had his own reason for doing that because he was looking at Europe's model and he was saying, we need to be industrial. I need to benefit the distillers in Philadelphia, not the farmers, because the farmers are not going to be able to build up this big financial machine that I would like to have that can compete with Europe. And so they really just kind of got caught in the, in the crosshairs of it. Yeah. But it shows that that that whole time period was so different from what we think of today. Once you start getting into the 1840s, fifties, sixties, now we start getting into right. More distilleries popping up.
It actually was. Yeah. Earlier than that Pennsylvania, you, I mean, you're talking about the whiskey rebellion, but there was pretty large scale distilling happening, you know, in well I'm in, well obviously like you said, Eastern Pennsylvania is where it was centered because that's where the cities were and where all the immigra, the immigration was taking place and all the people were moving very densely populated already. You know, Philadelphia was the largest city in the country before 1790 in New York became the largest, but you know, very highly populated areas so much so that if you look at those old maps, I mean, the farms are only about a hundred acres or less by that point, which is mind boggling. Yeah. Like <laugh> but yeah, I mean the further west you go, once you get out into the Western part of the state, we forget that this was the wild west, you know, there were Indians killing people and you know, this was a very difficult place to live and make a living for yourself.
And yes, they were bartering whiskey. But this distilling operations they'd have stills as big as, you know, 200 gallons. It's not like they were, you know, these tiny little things, not that that's large on a scale that we're talking about today, but, you know, we all think of them as being like these little hillbilly moon shiners, but in fact, they were producing quite a bit of whiskey and yeah. You know, they're one out of every five farmers. Not that it was so populated, but one out of every five had a still, and was distilling. Now that doesn't necessarily mean that they were using all the same copper stills that, you know, they may have had different setups. I've seen even ceramic stills <laugh>, but yeah, these people were producing quite a bit of whiskey and consuming quite a bit of whiskey and using it for trade trading for salt trading for you know, other goods that they didn't have out west.
So yeah, very important. <Laugh>, you know line of work and very important for a farmer. And there's the, you know, everybody always says that they needed it for money and for currency, but yes, in a real way, this was livelihood. And, you know, it's this misunderstanding, I think that people have of grain that, you know, you can just store grain forever. You certainly cannot. Grain is very, very valuable and precious and you, you can't just let it sit and you use what you need, you sell what you can, you barter with your Miller. But then you must distill this <laugh> so that, yeah. You are making use of it because it's very, very precious. It's also why in Pennsylvania, we didn't end up making wheat whiskey <laugh> because yeah. Wheat was used for bread and for making, you know baked goods. So that was a very valuable grain for that. There were also laws put in place as far back as the late 16 hundreds for the very early settlers where they were kind of going, Hey, Hey, Hey everybody, stop, stop using the wheat to make booze <laugh> yeah, yeah. Knock that off. <Laugh> so
What's, what's interesting. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> well, I was gonna say, what's interesting too, to think about that is that when you go to Pennsylvania, there's such a German influence there. And the the Eiffel region of Germany is a, you know, is a bread basket of rye grain mm-hmm <affirmative>. And so that is something that they would've been familiar with when, when they came. And so when I think about around the time of the whiskey rebellion, and there's a lot of talk about the scotch Irish influence at that time, that was there mm-hmm <affirmative>, but it was also very German. And so it makes you wonder if the Pennsylvania just evolved into rye whiskey, mainly because these Germans were all planting rye, and it was the thing that they were just familiar with.
It was also the thing they were allowed to distill. So, you know, like, like I just said, the, the laws that, that limit, what you're allowed to use and what you're not allowed to use you're not allowed to use the wheat, which these farmers are growing and large amounts and using to, you know, give to the Miller rye was a grain that was not as commonly used. And so it was okay. They went, all right, you guys wanna use rye that's finery also grew incredibly well. I can say from experience that rye does grow wonderfully well in Pennsylvania. And you know, we have a lot of odd soils shale soils and, and Sandy soils and clay soils and, you know, things that maybe wheat wouldn't thrive in barley certainly wouldn't. But Ry is like, Hey, I'll grow on the beach.
I don't care. Put me anywhere. <Laugh> sory is spectacular that way. And I think that the Scott's Irish, when they found they weren't able to grow what they wanted to grow, and then they saw how successful the Germans were with the rye. And then, you know, once you taste it, obviously anybody's mind would be changed. So they were like, ah, yeah, great. Let's do this swell. Yeah. Yeah. And so, you know Ry just took off and farmers just began, you got, you can grow it in the mountains for goodness sakes. So even the people that were living in the mountains could still grow rye. It was spectacularly, you know, prolific. So,
And I think this is one of the things too, that surprised me is that when I started reading about Tennessee distillers they came down from Maryland and from Pennsylvania mm-hmm <affirmative>, they started with rye whiskey. They did not start making corn right away. It was something that they evolved into because they just found their corn grew so much easier. And it was you know, it, it wasn't quite as difficult, it was a more reliable crop to, well,
So, and people were kind of Antico. This is, this goes even back to the all of the animosity with the native Americans native Americans were associated with Indian corn, therefore Indian court, bad Indians, bad. We don't want anything to do with them. And then of course you had the civil war where then you're like, well, now the southerners are drinking that corn liquor, and that's just, that's Southern garbage. And we don't want anything to do with it. And some of the derogatory things that are in, you know, rye, whiskey advertisements from like the 18 hundreds are just like, wow, <laugh>, it's really nasty <laugh> but they, yeah, they, they looked very much down on corn and real, you know, they, they had very little respect for it. So, you know, that rye was the elite beverage. Once you got into the 18 hundreds, but I think before that it was just the necessity beverage.
And then, yeah, as you get a hundred years of practice in making this stuff, you start to get expertise in it, which is where this manga Hela thing comes in, where people start to go, oh, that old manga Hela, now that's good whiskey. And you start seeing, you know, newspaper advertisements for that, the turn of the 18th century, like right when you're not turning into the 19th century, like 1800 and on, and you start seeing advertisements for old Menga Hela. And if it's already old, <laugh> by 1800. <Laugh>, you know what I mean?
It's, it's been around and yeah, made its way to Philadelphia made its way down the rivers. So
Do you think the time period of the whiskey rebellion is what helped give that it's kind of it's romantic?
I think that's what modern association people use. Yeah, as a campaign <laugh> item, but I don't think that it had much to do with it now.
Okay. But see, there is this thing that we talk about bourbon got its name from it, being stamped on barrels, and then floated down the Ohio river from limestone landing in Kentucky. But I also hear that they may have done that because they saw the barrels of old manga halo, rye mm-hmm <affirmative> that stamped on the sides of the barrel. But is there any evidence at all that they were stamping these barrels back then with, with those names
With old manga Hela?
Yeah. I would think, I, I mean, I, I don't know about I know, I don't know about stamping of the barrels. I've never seen a barrel from that long ago, but I can, I've seen newspaper articles from that long ago and I've seen, you know, advertisements. And when I say advertisements, I say that very loosely <laugh>, it's just like somebody listing the things that they have for sale. Yeah. And you know, they're saying old Menga Hela. And one that I was just looking at actually yesterday was from 1808 from Tennessee. Actually you're doing this. I was in Nashville. Yeah. Was an advertisement for old Menga Hela. So it was coming from actually not necessarily Pittsburgh, but from Redstone Fort which is basically Brownsville, Pennsylvania. And that is along the, the Monga Hela river. So, okay. The name manga Hela obviously associated with the river and that valley, but the reason that that's important is because you have all of these people that are coming into America and they wanna go west.
And, you know, Louisville was probably one of the only places that had a decent population down the Ohio. There's actually a report. This is there's a bourbon maker diary that I remember reading that was described this guy's journey down the Ohio, cuz he was, he left from Redstone, which was the common launching point because that's where a lot of the flat boats were being built. So these flat boats could carry 40 to 50 tons of weight each you know, big, impressive things. And there's really no obstacle on that river for a flat boat until you reach
The flowers of the Ohio, the falls
Of the Ohio. Right. So when you're launching from Redstone, cuz you're making your way along the Braddock road from, you know, Penn from Philadelphia and you're going west on your, you know, horseback or on wagon train or however you're traveling mostly on foot really <laugh> but as you get out to that very far point in Western Pennsylvania at Redstone, you're able to finally board a, a water going vessel and that takes you north because manga Hela river is actually a north flowing river. And that takes you out to the Ohio at Pittsburgh or at Fort Pitt <laugh> and then making your way down the river. Well actually west and then down, but you know, passing nothing but wilderness the whole way, horribly dangerous, by the way, <laugh> like just this massively difficult journey. I, I know we don't often think today, like we think about whiskey and we talk about well pack horses and you know pack horse can only carry so much weight and yes, that's true if you're moving east, but once you've gotten to BR Redstone and Redstone Fort and once you've, you know, loaded your stuff onto that flat boat, you are now moving west via Riverway and yeah, that's beautiful.
That's great. That's a wonderful way to travel, but it's also hardly dangerous <laugh> and it's water. Yeah. It's unpredictable.
Well, the, the hard part about that is because that, depending on the time period, you did have the opportunity for Indian attacks, that was, oh, of course you did thing that happened a lot. So there was some, some peril along the way potentially if you were going along, but well you, you,
You were hoping to make it to the different forts that were located right along the, the path. And then once you got yourself out to Redstone Fort, you had the protection of the military and then you were able to board and, and go. And so, you know, the, the river did provide you a little bit of protection, but yeah, you weren't safe. That's terrifying to do that. Yeah. Yeah. And then what you get your, your way to Maysville and make your way down to to Louisville and the falls. And a lot of people settled there and a lot of the whiskey settled there because you could not traverse the falls without help or without unloading everything getting to the safe location at the bottom of the falls and then continuing your journey. But there were tons of places to store this liquor. So all of that whiskey was coming from that air from Pennsylvania, from Monga Hila. So that, that name manga Hila rye was because everybody that loaded those boats was coming from the Menga Hila river and they knew it. Yeah. And old Menga Hila. Well, that's where it came from. That's where we all came from. So.
Okay. Yeah. Yeah. That makes sense. So have you had any luck in terms of finding distillery records from around the time of the whiskey rebellion? Because general John Neville, who was a major player in all of that was basically running his own distillery, but he was also the excise man. Right. And so I've always wondered if he's the excise man then somewhere around, he should have tax records or those tax records should be located somewhere.
It's, it's actually funny. You mentioned that how many times I came across the the, a distiller, your owner who was an exc Seman, because one of the things you learn as an exc Seman is how much money can be made in whiskey <laugh> so you start to see like, oh wow, I could do this. And then, you know, I mean, president Taft was an ex Seman and thank God he was because of the, you know, excellent ability. He had to kind of work out that craziness about, you know, straight whiskeys and rectified whiskeys and everything else. But I digres the, <laugh> the fact that so many of those early ex semen, it was a sweet job. You know, you made a lot of money. You had really not that, I mean, you had a lot of records to keep and you had to be very you know, diligent in your work, but you generally got the job because you were somebody's brother or cousin, or you knew somebody in government or and every time a new politician took over they would completely transplant all of those ex semen with the new guys, ex semen, who were loyal to their political party.
So you had this lot, you know, changeover was constant. And so you had all these new ex semen with these great ideas, like let start it's distillery. And so Pennsylvania had quite a few of those <laugh> lots of, yeah. Ex semen slash distillers and yeah, I'm sure they did keep a lot of records, but unfortunately I don't know that I've come across a whole lot of them. Most of the records that I look for in those early things were to try and find what type of rye they were using. Yeah. And found very quickly that there is no detail in any of us. It's just rye. Yep. We used this much rye. And then and most it's like, it's like reading your grandmother's recipes. <Laugh>, you know, she doesn't tell you anything. How am I supposed to know that, like she gives you the ingredients and then, you know, gives you a couple percentages and that's it you're on your own. So that's kind of more what I ended up running into that, that wall.
So do we know of any distillers before John and Michael shank? Cuz they were the ones in what 1753 I guess is where the origins of bomb burgers came about.
Are you saying, do we know about distillers before them?
Do we before them? Yeah. Of, of course that, that would be an, okay.
I know you wanna hear that there's records and stuff, but I think as I said, come at it from a different angle, so if you're gonna be a distiller and you're gonna make whiskey, what do you need still? Right,
Yeah. Where are the stills coming from Philadelphia? Because all of the people that were making stills of quality were located in Philadelphia. They at first were using copper that they were importing from Europe, but copper mines are as old as the state of Pennsylvania. So, you know, late 16 hundreds, they were finding copper and they found actually, you know, once mid 17 hundreds that the copper that was being found was actually superior to anything they had in Europe. And so, you know, Pennsylvania was making these very, very high quality copper pot stills in, in Philadelphia and the one what's, his Benjamin Haron is his name, this very famous copper Smith and 10 Smith in Philadelphia. He began his business in, I guess it was 1753 mid right around 1750. He started his what did become a very famous copper business where he made stills and he was not alone.
I mean, 1730s. And before you see a great many stills being made in Philadelphia and anybody who would, that was making whiskey needed to get their hands on these things. I was actually just having a conversation online with somebody the other day that was talking about, he was a expert in brewing actually. And was, he sent me an article about a still manufacturer from Philadelphia and was like, I didn't know that they had 800 gallon stills. And it was like, yeah, if you're making the still, and it's in the city of Philadelphia. Yeah, of course you're gonna have these 1600 gallon, you know, 2300 gallon monster stills in Philadelphia. You're just not gonna have them out west. You're only gonna have, <laugh>
Try to haul that out on a horse for
The horse. Exactly, exactly. So you don't start seeing the large stills until later until you have the ability to transport these things either by river canal the roadways improved and the roadways start improving, you know, late 18th century. So you start getting a lot more movement of quality product out west. So yeah, I mean, but 8, 17 53 is not as far back as it goes by any stretch of the imagination.
Well, and, and the thought is cuz I know you can go back into the 1660s in New York for you know, when the Dutch were sure. Distilling. and so, and that brings up the question of what were they distilling because America was a center for distilling rum for a long time. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> until we got in a little entanglement with the British and getting the
That little snafu
Molasses and sugar cane up here was a little bit tougher. So so we made that shift over to, to rye, but it's kind of what I find interesting in trying to piece together whiskey history when we can talk about distilling, but distilling could be distilling a variety of things in, in, they were probably doing Geneva or gin in New York, you know, in the 1660s, if it was coming from the Dutch. Well,
That's an interesting point. You bring up because I'm saying whiskey, but what I mean is white whiskey. Okay. White dog.
Okay. This is because it's not being aged. Yeah.
Right. You're talking about grain spirits. Yeah. So I'm not, I'm not talking about brown whiskey, which is one of the, my biggest pet peeves about watching those westerns. Like, you know, how everybody's drinking this beautifully brown liquor and you're like, yeah, no, but <laugh> <laugh> but the the earliest stuff that they were making was just white dog. And if it was aged, it was very, I don't know, I don't wanna say accidental, but it wasn't favored it wasn't, it's like, you know, why would you ask for something you didn't know about? You know, it wouldn't be like you're seeking it out now. I wouldn't doubt that in Philadelphia, they probably had age spirits far before anybody else. And the reason I say that is because I know for a fact that in the 1830s a man named John Gibson, who is just like, I can't even tell you how much I respect this man.
But he basically launched the age whiskey movement because what, and basically what he was doing is he was catering to the wealthy in Philadelphia. And you know, the Eastern cities, because he was not a distiller. He was well personally, not a distiller. He probably did rectification in his warehouses in Philadelphia, but he was a buyer. So what he was doing was he was buying spirits from Western distilleries, this old Menga Hela, right. That had become popular. And you know, this is only 1830 now. And he was bringing over this liquor from the west and I'm sure was noticing that, you know, the longer he stored it in his warehouses, the finer, this spirit became and he knew it. He was a very refined gentleman. So he knew, you know, what he could sell to the other refined gentleman that he spent his time with and started moving product.
And he single handedly changed the dynamic of whiskey sales in Philadelphia because his success was so big and so fast that everybody else wanted to be him. Yeah. And it was that success that led him to realize that he couldn't access the amount that he needed to fulfill, you know, his quotas and, and, and he knew that he could do better and he knew he could make more. So then he built his own distillery out in Western Pennsylvania. He never left Philadelphia mind you <laugh>, but he ran the most ship shape. Huge monster distillery in 1850s out in Western Pennsylvania. And that became Gibson and mills, which later became Warren in Sinnot, which was the largest distiller in the United States. And so if you're talking about a man who in 1830s is understanding the value of aged spirits, you're talking about something that had been well established that these, you know, old Monga, Hela and old whiskeys and aged whiskeys were not anything new. It's just that this was the first time that they had been marketed on a grander scale.
Well, and this is something that as you're sitting here telling me this, I'm, I'm thinking in my head that our forefather's George Washington, one of his favorite drinks was Madeira. Yes. Madeira is a aged fortified wine. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> that specifically spends time in a barrel mm-hmm <affirmative> to make the product better. Yes. So it, then we're talking then in the, you know, 1760s, 1770s, 1780s. So there had to be an awareness to the fact that a barrel could have a positive effect on a spirit.
This is something that I think that again, so many people get wrong because they don't cuz they only study whiskey. But if you study immigration and you realize that every single American somehow has roots to somebody that came over on a boat, right. And everybody that came over on a boat spent two weeks on a ship. And in those two weeks, the only thing that they had access to drink were things that were in barrels that were laded out of barrels or whatever. Every barrel that held liquid had to be charred, it was part and parcel to, you know moving liquids overseas. You did not use a barrel that wasn't charred because you needed to have a, a watertight container. And charring made that waterproof. That's been understood that, you know, ask any farmer what they do to the base of their wood before they bang it into the ground. You char it, this is a yeah. You know, it so common to farmers. And I think that's one of the things that, you know, modern people just can't wrap their head around that this, this was commonplace, you know? Yeah. There's nothing new about charring <laugh> and you know, to think that it was done just to age whiskey is ludicrous to think that, you know somehow a man in Kentucky burnt the inside of a barrel because his barn little and far <laugh>,
When you understand that, that is just something that every single American had had some experience with yeah. That you keep liquids in charred barrels. That's just what you do on your farm, in your house when you're storing your water or you're storing anything, what are you doing? You're charring your barrel. So I do believe on some level that, that there was an ACC, a happy accident, but I don't believe that that happy accident happened here in America. Oh. You know, traveling down a river. I think that it's something that people that lived in Europe understood. I just think that there wasn't a desire for aged product because a, it takes time and any distiller now will tell you like, God, I just made, you know, I gotta wait three years for this whiskey. This is, I'm burning a hole in my pocket. <Laugh> like,
Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly.
These people were not exactly, you know, living in luxury and they certainly didn't have million dollar, you know, investments <laugh> so yeah. It wasn't like you were going to do that. You know, and it really wasn't until these liquor firms in places like Philadelphia and New York with huge amounts of money were able to make these investments and then you start seeing this change happen, but it was not this foreign concept. I can assure you that. Yeah.
So describe to me, because there's a lot of speculation. I I've read a lot of different things about what manga ha rye actually is. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> I, I, I preface this by saying that the more I learn about whiskey, the more I rule, I, I learned that while there are commonalities that people were BA basically making whatever they had available. Right. So we, we can call a style and, and say, that is it. And everybody made it the exact same way. And I know that's not the case, but when we are talking about manga halo, rye, what kind of mash bill are we talking about with that?
I think people want to give it a definition and unfortunately, I don't think there is one okay. The Menga halo rye was the rye whiskey that was being made in the Menga Helo valley, full stop it's location oriented. And everybody knew, you know, in the same way that, you know, Paris is gonna make a beautiful dress and, you know, to Italy's gonna make great shoes. <Laugh> like Pennsylvania. The Menga healer region was gonna make great whiskey. Everybody knew it and everybody kind of took it for granted. So, and old things are great. You know, we, we, we love making associations with old as being good. And yeah. Yeah. I think that's, that's what it was. I know that once the 18 hundreds rolled around that, like we've already talked about corn was just a no-no like corn was cheap.
Corn was like, you know, a garbage vegetable. Like wh why would I distill that? You know? So I would definitely say that it was rye, but I wouldn't necessarily say that it was rye and barley. I think many distiller, I know many distillers were using malted barley either entirely with malted barley or with green or not malted, barley, what am I saying? Malted rye. Okay. So they were either making their entire mash bill with malted rye, or they were using unmalted. I, you know, you have to understand, like, these are farmers and these are, these are people that were developing their own kind of styles, but a person that's using an UN malted product in the same way that it happened in Ireland, it was money. It was cost saving. So mm-hmm, <affirmative>, you have to kind of and that, like, I'm not gonna say they were tinkering with it because these are people that had been doing it for a long time already.
And they understood how much, you know, not, they didn't call it DIAC power, but they, they understood that, you know, you needed a certain amount of malt that was a necessity, right? So you needed as much malt as you, that would get your your sugar contents up and when you're cooking it and everything. And so either they'd use all malt or they would use just as much as they needed. And the rest was UN malted because that was a cheaper way to go about it. But I think people underestimate rye mostly because they don't understand it. The DIAC power in rye is higher than most people give it credit for. And you also need to think about rye from a farmer's perspective rye out of the field can germinate right on this, the stalk, if not picked properly, if left on the stalk there, you know, and farmers understand when they're supposed to harvest it and how they're supposed to store it and what they're supposed to do with it.
But, you know, you can have active Dito power in a seed without malting it. Yeah. and then the malted grain that you do malt if you're doing a green malt and you're not, you know, fully drying it out, that's higher power for the Dito capabilities of that, that grain. So there's a lot of things that they were probably doing. I can tell you it was with rye <laugh> yeah, yeah. And the barley aspect, I think probably is more associated with a later time period. Because I know you, you're interested in talking about turn of the century, like 1800 and before the civil war. Right? Yeah. So I think that, well, the barley aspect probably came a little later.
I would think that the barley aspect probably came from the Irish because that is a very popular grain for Irish single pot, still whiskey, which became the world's whiskey for some time. But
I just, as far as manga Hela goes,
You know what I mean? Yeah. But that's what I'm saying is that you had this influx of people coming into the area who were Scott's Irish. Yes. And they probably would have increased the barley over time.
Absolutely. I definitely
Agree with that. Not initially.
Yeah, no, not initially. And I think, you know, like I said, these are farmers and when you're growing grain for those people that don't understand barley rye and wheat are, you know, obviously seasonal crops, they're, they're, they're fall crops winter crops they're called, but you plant them in the fall. And all of them are basically planted at the same time. So if you're a farmer and you have X number of acres or however much land you have, you're not mixing and matching, you know what I mean? Like you're planting. Yeah. And you're, you're planting as much as you can. And, and, you know, you're trying to get as much accomplished as you can. When you're growing separate plots of grain you need to have separate plots of land. And they take, they have slightly different care needs, but they all have the same growing season.
So, you know, that's something that a lot of people don't consider if you're a farmer and you're growing grain, you know, maybe you're growing barley, but you you're only growing so much of it. Or maybe you're, it doesn't grow on your land. So you have to borrow it from your, or buy it from your neighbor or maybe, you know, you and your neighbor are working together to make whiskey. I mean, I don't know, but, you know, that's why I would think from a farmer's perspective that a manga heel rye may have probably started all rye. Yeah. And then incorporated barley later. But yeah, I think you're right. It probably did come from those Irish at the Scott's Irish that were like, you know, I really like barley <laugh>, this is right. My favorite whiskey is made with barley. So I think I'm gonna try and bring that into the, the game here
And I'm, and I'm familiar with it. It's just a grain, I know how to grow. Right. And that's, that's what I was around. Yeah. Right, right. Okay. So I'm, so I'm holding up a bottle of written house rye. Yes. which is from, which is a Kentucky rye. It it says, yes, it says is a storied Pennsylvania style rye. Right. So when we hear Penn, when we hear Pennsylvania style rye, is this code word for for manga Hala or, cause this is actually 51% rye. Yes. So this isn't, I mean, this is more, I call this a bourbon drinker's gateway, right. To rye whiskey,
A Kentucky rye. Yeah,
So your question is, what is it is,
Is, is Pennsylvania's style, is there a different a Def different definition east versus west in
Pennsylvania? I think you're saying a Pennsylvania style. It means you're making your whiskey with rye. Okay. And it's I mean, the variations on Nashville are so vast and varied that, you know, one of the things that I've always found irksome is the idea that, you know, Pennsylvania is this style and it's a manga Hela style and that's the way whiskey's made. But if I'm telling you, you can't even pin down what manga Hela style was, you certainly cannot pin down Pennsylvania whiskey. Yeah. I mean, some distillers in around the civil war, just after 1870s, we're making whiskey with potatoes and making whiskey with, you know, was made with everything. Yeah. And a lot of it was bought by these city firms who were altering it with all sorts of flavors and things like that. So when you say, you know, is there corn and whiskey? Of course there was, but what I'm telling you is that it was looked down upon and it was usually done to make, make production cheaper, which is more associated with a city that would want, or a rectifying company that would, you know, use that to kind of make it cheaper for themselves.
Well, just going slightly south to Maryland. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> what I've read is that you know, because it's a little further south Maryland would incorporate more corn into their mash bills. Now, recently I just saw that they are coming out with a Mount Vernon Maryland heritage style rye mm-hmm <affirmative>, which speaks again to this idea, which is made in Indiana mm-hmm <affirmative> and then bottled in Baltimore. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> so the question is when we start talking about Pennsylvania style and we talk, start talking about Maryland style, and I recently had, had talked with someone from Texas who said that they're very touchy about the use of the name, Texas in whiskey that doesn't come from Texas. Right. Do you see a day, or do you think that it's something that needs to happen sooner or later that the word Penn needs
<Laugh> like, yeah. Pennsylvania there's too much bickering about these things. Because there are a lot of different you know, the larger distillers in Pennsylvania would not exactly be enthusiastic about having a legalized form of Pennsylvania style because a lot of their whiskeys that are Pennsylvania style are not from Pennsylvania. So if you're saying that, you know, you, in order for Pennsylvania whiskey to be made with Pennsylvania grain, like New York has done with empire Ry you're, we're just gonna get some pushback here in our state. Which is sad really, because I think personally, that you know, a product that's made in a place that's called, you know, Pennsylvania. It should be yeah. Pennsylvania. Yeah. <Laugh> and if you, right, you you're allowed to make anything you want in Pennsylvania, just don't call it Pennsylvania style or Pennsylvania whiskey that should, you know, I believe that that should definitely be a standard that we should have, but I also believe that a Pennsylvania style or calling something a Pennsylvania style is calling is different than calling something in Pennsylvania whiskey.
Any whiskey made in Pennsylvania should be able to be called to Pennsylvania whiskey, regardless of what its mash bill is, you know, Pennsylvania bourbon, Pennsylvania, rye, Pennsylvania, whatever it should be Pennsylvania whiskey, because it is made in Pennsylvania by a Pennsylvania distiller whether or not we should incorporate the fact that it uses Pennsylvania grain. I don't know if that should be the case. Honestly, I'd be willing to forego that just to get the category established. Yeah, I think that that might be too much because it is so expensive to work with, you know, or buy local grains as opposed to the stuff that you're gonna get from bris or whatever. But yeah, I we're long past due <laugh>
Well, and you think about it, bourbon you know, has those protections mm-hmm <affirmative> in Canada there was a distillery that with, with plenty of money behind them that put the word bourbon on one of their products saying bourbon style or something like that. Sure. And they were sued over that. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> and I, and I can understand that because whether it is when you have determined that bourbon is a thing mm-hmm <affirmative>, and that it, part of that thing is that it comes from the United States or scotch. And, and you know, now that there's American single malts, that, that idea that you could maybe say, well, this is an American scotch is really treading on the truth of the terwar and where it is coming from. And so, you know, when you're having that kind of protection for bourbon, it seems like that same protection should be afforded to the other styles of whiskey or the locations. So that we're, we're not being misled that a Kentucky rye is being called Pennsylvania style.
Right. No, I definitely agree with you there. And you know, the, the assumption that the history belongs to the buyer of a brand I mean, that's, that's a post prohibition thing it's as old, you know, it's a hundred years old that whole, you know, this is mine now <laugh> you can't have it. Like that's, that's, that's just the Bour <laugh>. I mean, that's the whiskey trade, I suppose. Yeah, a lot of cutthroat kind of stuff, but I think yeah, I mean, I would love to be able to say, you know, this Pennsylvania whiskey means something and that we're able to fight and maintain that, that integrity. But I think that the integrity needs to be universal. I think we need to have an agreement across the state of Pennsylvania by the distillers of Pennsylvania and not just have one or two distillers determining what they feel it should be.
Right. I also think that the term manga Hela, and this is just me, mind you, there are plenty of people in Pennsylvania that will argue with me on this, but I think that the term manga Hela is done that if that term is so historically impactful that you can say, we're trying to make a Menga Hela style and that's fine, but that history is so rooted in the Menga Hela valley and those incredibly important distilleries that existed out there that basically created American whiskey. Yeah. That, that history is unique and is gone. Yeah. So to say, you know, we're bringing it back is great. I, I, I love the idea of bringing it back and respecting that tradition and respecting that heritage. But so few people that talk about Menga Hilo whiskey, understand what they were doing in the first place.
So if you're making Monga Helo whiskey, but you're using a column still. Yeah. You ain't making Monga Helo whiskey <laugh>, you know, like if you're, and you're making, I don't know your mash bill is X or Y or, I mean, there's, there's too many things that are just that don't jive with the true history. And I think the sooner the Pennsylvanians can connect to what that history was. And I hope to help with that. <Laugh> the sooner that they can start to kind of go, oh, I know that there's a distiller. I was just talking to him this month. Who's starting a distillery out in Western Pennsylvania, and not only is he starting a distillery, but he's also starting a museum as well. And he's committing his museum to the history of Somerset whiskeys, Somerset county whiskeys Somerset county is incredibly interesting because it was one of the counties in Pennsylvania that had a unique style of whiskey.
And that was all copper pot, still style whiskey with fire heated copper pot stills. Okay. And this was right up until prohibition. So, you know, to think that there's the, you know, that it went away and that, you know, that was an old farming tradition thing is actually not true that Somerset whiskey or that the distilleries that were located within Somerset county kind of had this common understanding that this is the, this is the type of whiskey we make here in Somerset county. We make fire heated pot, still pure rye whiskey. And that's incredible. And he's embracing that and, you know, trying to connect back to that and that's great. I don't know that he'll be doing that <laugh> that particular style <laugh>, but at least he's, you know, paying homage to it and the fact that it existed. Yeah. The fact that it was a thing. So
I've seen a couple of fired stills mm-hmm <affirmative> that still are in existence. So sure. You know, Mount Vernon, it can happen <laugh> yeah. Yeah. And as usual, Laura and I had so much more to talk about than we could fit into a single episode. So next week we're gonna move on to talk about some specific distillers from Pennsylvania's history, some troubles with the whiskey trust prohibition, and also the crazy laws that came out after prohibition. And we'll find out more about the return of Pennsylvania distilling. If you wanna learn more about Laura's American whiskey convention, just head to American whiskey, convention.com and for show notes, transcripts and links to Whiskey Lore, social media, head to whiskey-lo.com. And until next week, I'm your host, drew Hamish cheers, and SL JVA whiskey. LO's a production of travel fuels life LLC.