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6 February 2024

Stoll & Wolfe – Resurrecting Heritage Rye Whisky

Nestled in the heart of Pennsylvania, Stoll and Wolfe was established in 2016 by Dick Stoll, a legendary figure in the whisky industry, and Avianna & Erik Wolfe. This partnership drew deep inspiration from the historic legacy of Pennsylvania distilling, a region once celebrated as the heart of American rye whisky. Dick Stoll, who was highly respected for being the retired head distiller at Michter’s, brought with him a wealth of knowledge and legendary status. His apprenticeship under Charles Everett Beam, of the iconic Jim Beam family, instantly gave Stoll and Wolfe a sense of heritage. Dick’s expertise was not just in distillation but also in sharing his old-school methods of whisky production, primarily using column stills that were so prevalent in Pennsylvania’s rye whisky golden age.Erik Wolfe, recognising the invaluable opportunity to learn from Dick, took up the effective role of an apprentice under Stoll. Together, in 2015 they began to resurrect a heritage Rye grain known as Rosen, with the help of Laura Fields of the Delaware Valley Fields Foundation and Greg Roth of Penn State’s Agricultural Extension. They planted 5 ounces of seed sourced from the USDA. This multi-year project was not just about reviving an old grain type; it was about bringing back a bygone era of whiskey-making. Dick Stoll, having been one of the last to distil Rosen commercially before its decline half a century ago, played a pivotal role in its renaissance.In 2019, after four years of replanting each year’s harvest, they managed to produce over 6,000 pounds of seed – enough Rosen to start distilling. This was a significant milestone and was accomplished just 1 year before Dick’s passing at the age of 85 in August 2020.The importance of intergenerational knowledge transfer in the distilling industry is in the minds of so many currently. The skills, instincts, and experiences of seasoned distillers are invaluable assets and need to be passed on. This is something that has become particularly apparent in the past year, with stalwarts of the industry retiring, taking with them 150 years of experience, including Iain McArthur of Laguvulin who alone had 50 years’ worth of knowledge. Keen to learn more about Stoll & Wolfe asked Avianna some questions:-What inspired you and Erik to start a whiskey brand? It was a fateful ride home from his family home in Lititz, PA one Christmas, headed back to our home in NYC. We had just passed PA Michter’s site in Schaefferstown, and Erik, who longed to come back to Lancaster County to raise our 2-year-old daughter, thought why is no one distilling in Lancaster County where there is a rich tradition of Rye production? We were both involved with the NYC restaurant scene and the slow food movement, so distilling seemed like a great connection between the past and the present while we tried to resurrect Lancaster County’s distilling traditions. How did you meet Dick?Erik was involved with the history of distilling locally from the start, and had become friends with a local whiskey historian, Ethan Smith who connected us with Dick and Elaine Stoll. After meeting the Stolls the rest is history!  Dick’s legacy was so inspiring-training under Charlie BeamMaster, Distiller at Michter’s, his time in the Navy, his incredible work ethic and his amazing knowledge, intellect, and that twinkle in his eye. We hit it off immediately, and with purpose and resolve decided that Dick’s legacy should not go unknown. The last of the old-time Pennsylvania distillers should distil again.What were the most important lessons you learnt from him, and how did you practically implement them? Dick was involved with every aspect of our process, from choosing our cypress fermenters and whiskey still to yeast selection, barrel entry proof and char, mash bills, and his focus on truly knowing your equipment. No doubt a habit born out of his mechanical prowess in the Navy working on planes, and his time as chief of maintenance at the distillery, before he was tapped as a distiller by Charlie Beam. He encouraged us to use all our senses in the distilling process, from grain to glass. He was our Yoda.Are you looking at resurrecting any other heritage grains? We were lucky enough to work with Laura Fields to distil Rosen Rye, she was inspired by a conversation with Dick about Rosen, as he was the last distiller to work with Rosen Rye before Michter’s shuttered.  In 2020 we started growing Rosen Rye with the help of our cousins Wes, Erik and Craig Kline on their farm located less than 2 miles from the distillery. Our shared 7x Great Grandfather William Kline started the farm in 1741 and the land continues to be farmed by family to this day.  All of our corn comes from the Kline Farm as well. What do you feel Rosen adds to a flavour profile? In our testing, we found Rosen Rye to impart a more robust flavour, and a more velvety and viscous mouth feel. It’s like “Rye rolled in sugar”, was the exclamation of many of the distillers who joined us on that historic first run. More importantly, Dick loved it!Which bottles currently have an element of Rosen in them? Rosen Rye releases and we have Bourbon barrels with Rosen as the small grain.When people come to the distillery are they more drawn to the Rye than the Bourbon? We certainly have guests ask for both, but PA Rye is what we get the most requests for.What would you like people to know about your distillery that is little known? We’re family owned and operated, we sweet mash, we have a similar still set-up as Kentucky Bourbon stills (albeit much smaller), and our Rye is an expression of the Eastern part of the state of Pennsylvania. our mash bill has local corn, unlike western PA which is typically all Rye.Can you remember the first time you saw your whisky in a bar and how it made you feel? In NYC at the Brandy Library was an amazing feeling of pride and amazement, we sent pictures to Dick & Elaine immediately. He was so proud!Thank you to Avianna for taking the time to answer my questions. They kindly sent me some samples which I truly loved and think demonstrate what is so great about Stoll and Wolfe:-Kindred Spirits Straight Bourbon 7-year-old 57.5%You immediately get the classic bourbon aromas of vanilla, caramel and oak, before hints of dark fruits, perhaps cherry or plum, come through. Gentle spice notes of cinnamon and nutmeg are in the background. The palate is rich and well-balanced with honey and caramel overlaying a spiciness that adds a lively kick. Dark chocolate begins to appear with those dark fruit. Despite the abv, it is very approachable with a very pleasant finish. Kindred Spirits Straight Rye 6.5 years old 53%I immediately got classic rye notes coming through on the nose, with a lovely sweetness and cinnamon spice. On the palate, I noted tangerine marmalade, caramel and nutmeg with some pecans in the background. On the palate, there were hints of banana, pears, vanilla and clove. The spice wasn’t overpowering and the whiskey was not too sweet. Rye Single Barrel 53.5%A fragrant nose full of stone fruits such as cooked peaches with hints of honey and vanilla. Grain, hints of black pepper, and a touch of dried herbs also make an appearance. The palate reminded me of a semi-fredo I used to make with dried figs, stem ginger and vanilla, served with dark chocolate chips on the top. There were also hints of dried apple and pear with the spice lingering on the finish.  This was delicious and my favourite of the three. I am forever indebted to the Whisky Exchange for inviting me to a dinner where they showed 6 American whiskies they had hand-selected. Just consider that for a moment – the largest whisky retailer in the world going out to find very small batches of whisky, from distilleries that simply excited them. I was blown away and I don’t say that lightly. Not only were all 6 sensational, but the passion Dawn Davies MW and Billy Abbott had for them was infectious.

Category: Food & Drink