Contributing to a wide variety of the state’s food, fiber, and beverage producers – including local distilleries – Virginia grains are a vital part of the commonwealth’s agriculture industry and economy at large. Investment into the development and enhancement of grain-growing and sourcing is key to the health and wellness of our vibrant community. 

Virginia Heritage Grain Project

The Virginia Heritage Grain Project, led by Shelley Sackier, director of distillery education at Reservoir Distillery, aims to rediscover forgotten flavors of history and preserve ancestral tradition by studying and distilling heritage grains. The project involves researching and procuring grains, planting and harvesting them, distilling them and collaborating with experts in the field.

With funding secured from the Virginia Spirits Board Research and Education Grant Program, Shelley Sackier has been tasked with studying some of our country’s oldest grains used in relation to spirits production, ultimately asking the questions, “Are the forgotten flavors of history waiting to be rediscovered? And are they worthy of being unearthed?” 

Project Goals

  • Build partnerships: Create a growing database that connects farmers and distillers to strengthen our local bonds and relationships.
  • Mitigate risk: Collect data via hands-on research and development for grain growers/users interested in utilizing heritage grains.
  • Uplift Virginia: Highlight distillers all across Virginia and market our historic value and unique appellation.

The Project Scope

Locating heritage grains – Shelley Sackier

Locating Heritage Grains:

In partnership with heritage organizations like Monticello, agronomists at the USDA germplasm and the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, it identifies and locates heritage grains.

In the fields – Shelley Sackier

In the Fields:

The team is working with researchers at Virginia Tech and private farms to plant, harvest and collect data on these grains.

Studying the Distillate – Shelley Sackier

Studying the Distillate:

To add to that, the project works in collaboration with the James Beam Institute through the University of Kentucky to conduct small-batch distillation runs to create enough distillate to put in front of a sensory panel full of international industry experts who will evaluate the new spirit and determine whether they feel the result is worthy of barreling.

Progress

  1. Fall 2023 – Planted 13 heritage varieties of wheat, rye and barley at two Virginia Tech locations.
  2. Spring 2024 – Completed small batch distillations samples for eight heritage varieties of corn, wheat and rye. These samples were evaluated and are now being analyzed. 
  3. Spring 2024 – Planted 22 unique varieties of heritage corn between two Virginia Tech research stations and two private farms. Newly harvested grain is being assessed for the next round of small batch distillation.
  4. Fall/Winter 2024 – Fall planting campaign is underway. Plus, after testing which heritage grains work best for growing and producing spirits, they will be produced in larger batches.

If you are interested in participating in the study —  farming or distilling side — please contact Shelley Sackier at shelley@reservoirdistillery.com.

Common Grain Alliance (CGA)

Common Grain Alliance (CGA) connects and supports grain farmers, grain processors (millers and maltsters) and grain artisans (bakers, brewers, distillers, pasta makers, etc.) to build a vibrant, integrated, equitable and regenerative grain economy in the Mid-Atlantic. CGA is a network of 130 members who are primarily regional grain businesses throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Its goals as an organization are to:

  1. Facilitate relationship-building amongst grain growers, processors and users to share knowledge, build business relationships, and, ultimately, grow the production and consumption of locally produced, sustainable grains.
  2. Help small and medium sized farmers grow food-grade grains with regenerative farming practices by developing educational materials, hosting farmer field days and providing “growing grains for soil health” classes.
  3. Increase revenue for local grain farmers and processors by creating new direct-to-consumer market opportunities, providing training and technical assistance to improve business operations, and facilitating farmer/processor networking and business connections.
  4. Expand consumer awareness and buy-in of regional grains through educational events and materials. 
  5. Partner with BIPOC leaders to ensure that the development of a regional grain economy is equitable and accessible to all.