Of all the grains that could have been chosen to begin work with on the SeedSpark™ Project, why choose Rosen rye? The choice to focus on Rosen was made for two main reasons:
1. Rosen rye is historically documented as being an important part of the grain bills (whiskey recipes) at Michter’s Distillery in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania. Michter’s Distillery (a.k.a. Historic Bomberger’s Distillery) was not only one of the oldest and most well-respected distilleries in Pennsylvania, it was also the most recent of hundreds of historic distilleries in Pennsylvania to close its doors for good. Paying homage to the whiskey recipes that helped define PA whiskey in its heyday was always an important part of the inspiration to use Rosen rye.
2. Rosen rye was of specific interest to the owners of Stoll & Wolfe Distillery, Erik Wolfe and Avianna Ponzi. Their master distiller, Dick Stoll, expressed his desire to work with the grains he had used at Michter’s Distillery, but they knew Rosen rye was no longer commercially available to them. When Laura Fields met and spoke with them about their desire to use Rosen in their rye whiskey recipes, the decision to work with Rosen was firmly resolved.
Work on this special project began in 2015 when the Delaware Valley Fields Foundation partnered with Greg Roth at Penn State’s Agricultural Extension. The mission was to return Rosen Rye to Pennsylvania farmers and, in turn, to its distillers. The first very small amount of Rosen (5 ounces) from the USDA seed bank was planted in the fall of 2015. By 2016, Penn State had grown a few pounds of seed, and by the following year (funded by the Delaware Valley Fields Foundation), they had nearly an acre! By harvest in the summer of 2018, there was enough Rosen rye to distill into whiskey with about 50 pounds of seed left over to replant in the fall. After the harvest in July of 2019, Stoll & Wolfe Distillery had over 500 pounds of milled Rosen Rye (donated by the Delaware Valley Fields Foundation), and on September 7th, 2019 that rye was distilled into Pennsylvania rye whiskey.
The 2020 summer harvest has yielded nearly 6,000 pounds of Keystone Rosen rye from our 3 growing locations across Pennsylvania. In the fall of 2020, over 20 acres of Keystone Rosen rye seed (2,650 pounds) was planted. The following year, that amount was more than doubled. The 2022 harvest yielded nearly 100,000 pounds of grain! Farm partners of the SeedSpark™ Project anticipate planting over 400 acres of Keystone Rosen rye in the fall of 2022!
No distillery in the United States had produced rye whiskey using Rosen Rye since Dick Stoll ceased using it to make whiskey at Michters Distillery in Schaefferstown, PA. When Michters slowed down production and finally closed its doors in February of 1990, the distillery's demand for the grain disappeared along with any reason for farmers to grow it. 30 years later, when Dick Stoll took on the role of master distiller at Stoll & Wolfe Distillery, he was very interested in using Rosen again. Mr. Stoll and Erik Wolfe were unable to find any Rosen to uy for distilling purposes. This inability to source any of the grain was revealed to Laura Fields in 2015. Ms. Fields had been touring the state interviewing distillers and members of Pennsylvania's grain supply chain to collect more information about the state of the grain supply chain in Pennsylvania. Their desire to work with the grain inspired Ms. Fields to action...and the SeedSpark™ Project was born.
Laura Fields and the Delaware Valley Fields Foundation recognized that this vacuum in the grain market was actually an exciting economic opportunity for local farmers! Distilleries had been an enormous economic driver in Pennsylvania's agricultural supply chain before Prohibition and could fill that important role again. Stoll and Wolfe Distillery is among the first of many craft distilleries that will offer competitive pricing on heritage grains to farmers who choose to grow them.
“It’s amazing that the last person to use Rosen Rye will be the first person to use Rosen Rye again,” said Fields. “When the variety of rye being used to make whiskey is shown to be an important factor in the taste and quality of the final product, I’ll be thrilled!” The proof that Rosen was superior to other ryes was proven in September 2019 when it was distilled at Stoll & Wolfe Distillery by Dick Stoll & Erik Wolfe. Their interest in Rosen provided the Delaware Valley Fields Foundation with the inspiration to grow the grain. It was ceratinly fitting that they be the first to distill it once enough had been grown.
Four years of turning a handful of seeds into a harvest finally came to pass and enough Rosen rye grain was produced by the Delaware Valley Fields Foundation to run through the still at Stoll & Wolfe Distillery. The milled Rosen was mashed and the yeast was added to begin the fermentation process on Tuesday, September 3, 2019 in Lititz,Pa. That fermented mash was pumped into their column still and doubler at Stoll & Wolfe Distillery on Saturday, September 7th. The resulting rye whiskey distillate was barreled the next day. It was the first time this heritage rye has been made into whiskey since Dick Stoll mashed and distilled Rosen rye at Michter’s Distillery in Shaefferstown, Pa decades ago. How appropriate that the last man to distill at Michter’s will be the first to bring Rosen back again.
The rye whiskey distilled on September 7, 2019 was barreled in an 8-year-seasoned, 30 gallon charred oak cask from ZAK Cooperage. It was aged at Stoll & Wolfe Distillery for 2 years and bottled in 2021. 100x 375ml bottles of Straight Keystone Rosen rye whiskey was sold through a raffle by Stoll & Wolfe Distillery on November 3, 2021.
Stoll & Wolfe Distillery continues to make Keystone Rosen rye whiskey every year as the grain is harvested each summer. The next release of Straight Keystone Rosen rye whiskey will be available to the public in 2023 when the whiskey will be released as a 4 year old "bottled-in-bond" rye.
1. Stoll & Wolfe Distillery- since 2019
2. Liberty Pole Spirits (Mingo Creek Craft Distillers)- since 2020
3. Quantum Spirits- 2020
4. Altered State Distillery- since 2022
5. Mason Dixon Distillery- since 2022
6. Far North Spirits- 2022
7. George Washington's Mount Vernon Distillery- 2022
Coming Soon in 2023- Iron City Distilling Co.
We were priviledged to have expert distiller and distillery consultant, Lisa Roper Wicker, at the SeedSpark event on September 7th at Stoll & Wolfe Distillery. She was thrilled with the clarity and nuanced flavor in the Rosen Rye new make whiskey.
"It tastes like rye that's been rolled in sugar," she says. "Like candy-coated rye. It's delicious!".
The SeedSpark™ Project is entirely funded by the Delaware Valley Fields Foundation. The Delaware Valley Fields Foundation receives most of its funding from an annual event in Philadelphia called the American Whiskey Convention.
The American Whiskey Convention was founded in 2016 by the Delaware Valley Fields Foundation to support local agriculture through education of the public, outreach to the agricultural community, and economic stimulus for participating vendors. In other words, you come for the whiskey, but you can’t help but learn all about the grain it’s made from while meeting members of an agricultural supply chain (that every distillery needs to function) while you’re there. The AWC demonstrates for every guest what’s truly involved in the production of whiskey in America- from "grain to glass". The event's slogan is "Have a Drink. Help a Farmer."
The funding for the SeedSpark™ Project helps aid research on crop treatments, fertilizer applications, soil optimizations, harvesting and planting costs, testing of seeds for any disease as well as testing for malting capabilities, and the distribution of this information to farmers. The partnership begun with Penn State University, which began in 2015, has expanded to now include many others partners. All information made available through our research is shared with our partners to enable the best possible outcomes for the crop. The Delaware Valley Fields Foundation is committed to helping farmers connect to distillers (and vice versa) and establish long lasting supplier/customer relationships between them. As a young distillery grows, the farmer grows with them.
The Delaware Valley Fields Foundation will continue to work to return to Rosen rye to Pennsylvania’s farms and distilleries. Each year, the harvests will be gifted to different farmers and distillers to maintain and preserve the hundreds-of years-old tradition of making Pennsylvania rye whiskey right here in the Keystone State. The goal has always been to ensure that the beneficiaries of the Seed Spark Campaign be our local farmers, businesses and the communities that they support.
In 2022, nearly 400 acres of rye will be planted for the 2023 harvest. New distilleries will continue to join those that have already made Keystone Rosen rye whiskey.