Nothing is more exciting than getting a call asking if we would like to see Walter A. Wood equipment in use. In mid-July that’s just what happened.
Gary Fuess, a 1961 graduate of Delaware Valley University, called to tell me the university was hosting an “Historic Harvesting” event on July 16th. Focus of the event was rosen rye, a popular variety used at the turn of the last century in the making of Pennsylvania whiskey. Through careful preservation efforts, Delaware Valley successfully re-propagated enough seed to plant out a field. This past fall, they planted and began harvesting it at the event using some equipment with special ties to Hoosick Falls, a pull behind Walter A. Wood binder.
Pennsylvania Rye Whiskey is considered America’s original whiskey. In the 18th century many Pennsylvania farmers were using their surplus rye grain to distill homemade whiskey. In 1791, the new United States government imposed a whiskey tax. This did not go over well and the farmers threatened to secede from the union. This incident, known as the Whiskey Rebellion, was obviously not successful, but it was an indication of how important rye whiskey was to our country’s early history.
Unfortunately for those growing rye for whiskey, 1920 brought passage of the 18th Amendment and Prohibition, lead to the variety going out of favor with growers. However, the careful efforts of DVU meant students today could not only see the reemergence of the variety; they could also see it harvested as it would have been 100 years ago.
Bryce Cannon, a staff member from DelVal’s Roth Center for Sustainable Agriculture, located a functional Walter A. Wood binder and worked with students to train a donkey used to pull the wheat by cart to the thresher. Cannon discovered the antique binder in one of the university barns and spent the winter getting it into working order. The harvested rye was divided up between the university and Dad’s Hat Distillery, where it is once again being made into whiskey.
Dad’s Hat was opened in 2011 near the original site of the Philadelphia Pure Rye Whiskey Distilling Company. Working with DVU, they hope to revive the old tradition of making real Pennsylvania whiskey from rosen rye.
If Walter Wood could be here to see one of his binders still working, I think he would say, “Job well done! Now, let’s have a shot of rye whiskey to celebrate!”