Before the discussion began, our panelists help set the mood by mixing some craft cocktails. Panelist Andrew Auwerda co owner of Philadelphia Distilling
brought samples of their spirits to share. We used the Bluecoat Gin to make Pink Lady* cocktails as proposed by panelist Mike Welsh, the managing partner of The Franklin Mortgage and Investment Company
. Mike brought the grenadine from his bar, and our moderator Felicia helped to mix up these fabulous drinks. In honor of the Ben Franklin, contributor Alexis Siemons from Teaspoon and Petals
crafted a special iced tea blend using Ben's favorite flavors.
Once everyone settled down, Felicia led the discussion by first asking our panelists to introduce themselves. Mike Welsh and Andrew Auwerda come from opposite ends of the craft liquor spectrum. Mike opened the Franklin to have a place where the bar was the center of the universe. The experience is focused around the art of crafting perfect cocktails. To make the perfect cocktail, one needs the best spirits. That's where Philadelphia Distilling plays a big role. Andrew opened Philadelphia Distilling with the flagship product Bluecoat Gin, and was the first craft distillery in Pennsylvania since Prohibition.
Here is a recap of some of the intriguing facts we learned from the evening.
- Pennsylvania was once the bourbon and whiskey capital of America, before 1918 when Prohibition wiped out the distilleries. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the fine spirit makers headed south to Tennessee and Kentucky to avoid the harsh Pennsylvania liquor taxes.
- The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) is the largest alcohol customer in the United States. The PLCB buys all the alcohol for the entire state, then distributes it to liquor stores and restaurants.
- Absinthe gets an undeserved bad rap. American absinthe is made in the same way as European absinthe, yes, with wormwood. It really doesn't have the crazy hallucinogenic properties we blame it for. The bad reputation comes from a French wine revival.
- It is completely legal to brew your own beer and wine at home. It is completely illegal to distill your own spirits without a license.
- Distilling can be used as a way of preservation. Vodka made from potatoes was due to a surplus of potatoes. Whiskey made from corn was a way to preserve a surplus corn crop. Distilling surplus crops keeps them from rotting, and provides another means of cash flow.
- Before Prohibition, craft bartenders perfected their recipes and passed them down through apprentices. During the Prohibition Era (1918-1933), the knowledge of making fine cocktails was greatly lost. Bartenders weren't able to pass down their recipes, and quality spirits couldn't be made. When selling alcohol was legal again in 1933, it took a long time for the quality of distilled spirits to come back. It was not until recently that original cocktail recipes began being uncovered. Unfortunately available ingredients are not the same today, as they were at the turn of the twentieth century. Bartenders are making efforts to recreate some of these ingredients that can no longer be found.
- Punch is the original cocktail. It was created as a means to bring people together.
As what seems to be a trend at our Junto discussions lately, the group had trouble keeping the panel discussion to just an hour. Felicia, Mike and Andrew were gracious to stay after the formal discussion to talk to the audience about their areas of expertise.