One of Philadelphia’s hidden cultural gems is the elegant and historically rich Museum of Archeology and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. While most visitors to the region know about larger museums such as the Franklin Institute, the Academy of Natural Sciences, or the Philadelphia Museum of Art, far fewer have availed themselves of the superb collections and more intimate spaces and offerings within the Museum of Archeology and Anthropology.
Befitting of the rich history of whiskey in Pennsylvania, the museum was a wonderful backdrop for the 4th Annual American Whiskey Convention. The Whiskey Rebellion occurred in the western end of the state in 1794, when the young U.S. government began taxing whiskey to pay for the Revolutionary War. With every drop of the spirit, you can easily imagine the history of the state.
Now in its fourth year, the convention showcases premium whiskeys from throughout the country. This tasting event featured more than 250 bourbons and whiskeys from American distillers. There were many other spirits to be sampled, as well as other interesting beverages including a few barrel-aged beers, wines and ports. Also for purchase were savory nuts and fruity gummi bears from Nuts to You, and handcrafted ceramic flasks from local artisans. In addition to providing samples of limited bottling of rare and fine whiskeys, the convention could meet the spirit connoisseurs’ highest expectations. As event founder Laura Fields explained, “This is a true farm-to-glass experience … it’s a complete experience for American whiskey lovers.”
Last year’s event was held at Philadelphia’s Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum that features a collection of 65 racing sports cars. Unfortunately, we were not able to attend that event, so we were looking forward to this year’s festival. Similar to previous years, there were many opportunities this time around for learning and refining one’s appreciation for the spirits. Classes were offered on the first floor of the museum for VIPs as well as early entry attendees. The ever-popular vote count for favorite spirit or cocktail was back, so each person’s opinion mattered!
Greeting attendees at the top of a marble staircase at the entrance to the venue was World Wide Stereo of Ardmore. A beautiful all-in-one turntable, pre-amp, and tube amplifier from Mcintosh Audio were on display in the booth, to be awarded at the end of the night to a lucky winner. Smaller scale gifts were also awarded - Harris won a cool baseball cap in a flattering shade of purple. It makes sense to include this respected vendor of high-fidelity audio among the distilleries who were represented, since striving for the best in music reproduction goes hand in hand with a truly fine spirit. We’ve attended listening events at World Wide Stereo’s store in Ardmore, a Philadelphia suburb, so we can confirm that if anyone can provide a guide to excellent audio, it’s their knowledgeable and passionate staff.
Having had the privilege to attend a number of similar events over the years, we took care as always to hydrate throughout the day, do a bit of carb loading, and have small pours, as it’s all too easy to dull your senses with too much of a good thing. But even with those precautions, a member of our team was suddenly struck with a 24-hour bug, ending our coverage of the night earlier than we’d planned.
Organizer Michael Patrizio always pays attention to even the smallest of details to enhance the overall experience of the night. This year, he provided lovely double-walled whiskey glasses for attendees – although we decided to stick to the smaller plastic sampler cups to prevent too large a pour, and saved our whiskey glasses for water.
A few favorites stood out for us. Harris felt the burn from a delicious peppery whiskey from Widow Jane. Described officially as “Whiskey Distilled From a Rye Mash-American Oak Aged,” the spicy finish was delightful surprise.
Contributor Thomas Fogel, who was attending his first Whiskey Convention, writes, “There was a broad variety of American whiskey present at the festival. You could find anything from bourbon, to Monongahela rye, to even New England apple wine if you wanted to. Heavy hitters were present, like Jim Beam and Heaven Hill, along with some smaller craftsmen, such as Orphan Barrel and Dad’s Hat.
One old favorite of mine that I was quite pleased to see, was Thistle Finch, which became near and dear to my heart while I was in college. Located in Lancaster, PA, Thistle Finch has distilled spirits since the beginning of this decade, but their name was made in rye. They offer a young white rye that maintains its clear color because it doesn’t spend much time in the barrel, and it’s full of rye spice that pops immediately. Its aged straight rye is much more complex, with a mellow profile that balances out the kick.
I was also particularly impressed with Stranahan’s Colorado whiskey. When most folks think of American spirits, they tend to go for distilleries from the South, but this Western whiskey holds its own with the heaviest hitters. Stranahan’s Sherry Cask was an unexpected delight that blended sweetness with sour mash and leaves your mouth wanting for more.”
Delicious food was catered by celebrity chef Chad Rosenthall, owner of The Lucky Well in Ambler, featuring an old-fashioned pig roast and all the fixins including tangy coleslaw and brisket mac ‘n’ cheese that paired well with bourbons and rye whiskeys.
Proceeds from the evening benefitted the Delaware Valley Fields Foundation, a non-profit group that promotes local farming and its history. It works with farmers and other non-profits to bring attention to the vital role that small farming plays in communities.
Harris Fogel and Thomas Fogel, posted 4/10/2019
For more information on the Delaware Valley Fields Foundation, visit http://www.delvalfieldsfoundation.org/
For more information on the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, visit https://www.penn.museum/
For more information on the American Whisky Festival, visit https://www.americanwhiskeyconvention.com