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Tasting the garden in the bottom of a glass

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It’s just your usual event at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education (SCEE) on Jan 16. Informative, informal and lots of fun with a Drunken Botanist to keep everyone amused. Readings from Amy Stewart’s book of the same name were coupled with drink offerings from the event’s co-sponsor, Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction, an artisan distiller located in Old City.
“We won’t be focusing on plants in drinks but other in drinks but other interesting ones as well,” said Mike Weilbacher, executive of the SCEE and the evening’s host.

One plant, which was not in the drink, was the tulip. It caused two economic booms. The first in the mid-1600s in The Netherlands, where the tulip bulbs almost became more precious than gold; then again during the height of Ottoman Empire, there was the Tulip Age when it became fashionable in Ottoman Court society to grown the plant, causing the government to intervene in the economy.

Another plant mentioned that was not sampled that evening was the grape; also the apple, about which Weilbacher read excerpts from “The Drunken Botanist”. According to the book, many apple varieties are clones from the original strain and the folklore of Johnny Appleseed was that he was propagating the plants to make hard cider. According to Weilbacher, Apples is one of the longer chapters of “The Drunken Botantist.”

“Even bad apples make great liquor,” said Weilbacher.
Weilbacher also read about Sassafras from the book (of which you can see on The Review’s website, Despite the flavor, there is no Sassafras in “Root” Art In The Age. Scientists found that the ingredient posed certain risks to the liver, and the FDA banned it as a food ingredient in the 1960s.
Olivia Carb from Art In The Age was on hand to discuss the products on offer during the discussions. All of Art In The Age’s liquors are made with Neutral Spirit base and maturated with botanicals to give each product their unique flavor.

“And the beauty is that you can mix all four for the same hangover,” said Carb.

With “Root” as with much of the product line, Carb explained, is inspired by the country’s history. Carb told event attendees that in the 1700’s, it was called “Root Tea.” An herbal remedy made with sassafras, sarsaparilla, birch bark and other wild roots and herbs. Native Americans taught the recipe to colonial settlers. As it was passed it down from generation to generation, it grew in potency and complexity; particularly in the Pennsylvania hinterlands, where the ingredients naturally grow in abundance.

At the close of the 19th century, as the Temperance movement conspired to take the fun out of everything, a Philadelphia pharmacist removed the alcohol from Root Tea and rechristened it (ironically) “Root Beer”, and introduced to the world at the legendary 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.

Carb said that Art in the Age thought it would be interesting and fun to turn back the clock and recreate a true pre-temperance alcoholic Root Tea and even made it certified organic.

“Since back then, everything was organic” said Carb.

Also on offer was “Rhubarb”, the plant has links to “Founding Father” Benjamin Franklin, who brought the first rhubarb seeds from Europe to America as a gift for to his friend botanist John Bartram in 1771. Rhubarb originally came from China, where it was used as an herbal tonic. The way it was enjoyed changed when cane sugar became more affordable. Art In The Art were inspired by the legend that Bartram was so enthused with rhubarb, he concocted a lovely garden tea showcasing his new botanical prize.

Another product offered was ‘Snap’ which is reminiscent of a Ginger Snap, it’s Pennsylvania German inspiration. In many local bars, patrons have added a shot of this to their pumpkin beers during the autumn months. And finally, the final product was ‘Sage’, a very Gin-like product definitely suited for Summer. According to Carb, Art In The Age was inspired by Thomas Jefferson, the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the “Flora Americae”, a catalogue of plants found on that trip.

During the event, attendees discussed other plants that are often overlooked as weeds or generally unsightly. Dandelion was one example. It is one of the more reviled plants but can be used a very helpful tonic or tasty homemade wine.

“It’s a great book by Ray Bradbury,” said Weilbacher.

SCEE was founded in 1965 as the nation’s first urban environmental education organization. Its 365-acre sanctuary serves as a living laboratory to foster appreciation, deepen understanding, and encourage stewardship of the environment. SCEE reaches over 15,000 Philadelphia-area residents each year with an array of educational programs, including standards-based programs for schoolchildren, continuing education for teachers, and a full calendar of events for the public. The environmental art department sparks awareness of the natural environment with exhibitions of the highest quality that attract, educate and inspire the public.

 “It’s a very interesting event,” said Aaron Kase. “I am always glad to learn about things in the backyard that can be used for useful purposes.”

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Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

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Realistically, Art in the Age would stand out anywhere. Entranced by the vintage sign hanging above the door, I walked in the store unsure of what to expect and found myself immediately engulfed in an aura of antique/retro/urban madness–the kind of madness that appeals to your senses, draws you in, and doesn’t let go. Kerouac’s kind of madness. My kind of madness.

Located in the Old City neighborhood of Philadelphia, Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction possesses a unique architectural appeal. Its distinctive infrastructure, original brick walls, and rustic wooden floors combine to tantalize the visual senses, but the beauty doesn’t stop there. Wrought iron hanging lamps. Weathered drawers and shelving. Antique furniture pieces. Floor to ceiling blackboards. A wall filled with pictures of bands who have played in store (Woods,Times New Viking, Phoenix–to give you an idea). Trust me when I say you will have never seen anything like it–and will never see anything like it again.

The store, famous for selling exclusive lifestyle brands and its very own line of Art in the Age organic spirits, grew out of inspiration from Walter Benjamin’s groundbreaking essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in which he critiques the tendency to reproduce artwork which, in turn, leads to an inevitable loss in value. Thus, Art in the Age challenges the modern-day methods and motivations of our industrialized world, instead offering thought-provoking, exclusive products with unparalleled value.

“My favorite part of working at Art in the Age is definitely getting to stock brands that you really don’t find anywhere,” noted Bob, the store’s manager and buyer. These brands include Archival Clothing, Gitman Vintage, and A Kind of Guise, to name a few. The store doesn’t just sell clothing, though; you’ll find books, magazines, prints, jewelry, wallets, tote bags…even chocolate. And, of course (my favorite), there’s an entire display case dedicated to the extraordinarily hip and affordable Warby Parker glasses.

From exclusive products and friendly employees to effective branding and a rare capacity for cultural awareness, Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction does it differently. They do it right. So head on over to Philly’s Old City neighborhood and keep your eye out for a mechanical “A” on a vintage sign. But, beware: once you enter through the wooden doors of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, you’ll never want to leave.

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The Launch of Apology 2 and the Flowers & Candy Opening, All at Once...

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Art in the Age generously provided the spirits. Their Sage liquor was pretty much a revelation.

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Here Are the 10 Golden Rules for Succeeding in Philly Retail

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4) Offer something that can't be found elsewhere.
Better still, develop your own in-house brand or label, and develop appealing brick-and-mortar and online shopping experiences to match. "It's a whole culture and package," says Steve Grasse of his brand/Old City store, Art in the Age. "We have unique products. We have unique content. Unique exhibitions." You need to be passionate about what you're selling, as well; shoppers will find this passion infectious. " If you've ever been to the store, you know that we can talk at length about all of the stuff that we sell," says Liz Sieber, owner of Pine Street's Omoi Zakka Shop. "We've made it our purpose to look all around the world for products that feel refreshing and satisfying to use and I think we have a great customer base that sees the value in our work." Omoi's beautifully-executedonline store and blog are shining examples of how a shop's online presence can drive sales.

6) Don't expect overnight success.
Strive for long-term sustainability as opposed to instant profitability. "I think anyone can be in business for a short time," says Tselaine's Elaine Tse. "It's difficult to be great for a long time." One way to stay profitable? A reliance on cold, hard facts. "Making decisions on a whim or hearsay will not yield the benefits of a well developed strategy," advises Metro Men's Tom Longo. "The best thing I ever did was to invest in a Point of Sale system that tracks the critical components of my business. I use that data to make informed buying decisions," says Longo. Be patient. "It takes three years to get your business up and running to its maximum potential," says Elena Brennan, owner of the seven-year-old Queen Village shoe shop Bus Stop. What's more, you should expect to encounter hurdles along the way. L&I, high business taxes—even street construction will become a thorn in your side. "Honestly, the biggest issue we have faced over the past few years is all the freaking road work that has been going on in Old City," shares Art in the Age's Steven Grasse. "After a sustained period of traffic patterns being altered, people's habits change. I think this has been particularly hard for the boutiques in Old City, which are all independents." From broken water pipes to heating issues in your shop, shit happens. Have money set aside for incidentals. Sarah Lewis, the owner of Fishtown jewelry boutique Adorn, recommends selling online and accepting custom work to generate extra income.

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A Newer, Way Cooler Home Bar Stash Would Include...

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Getting carted

Why all the sudden interest in home bar carts? "There has been a trend toward formality in home entertaining," explains Gibbons. "The retro tradition of the cocktail hour is making a comeback, and a bar cart makes for a chic way to present everything." Putting together a home bar is way easier than it looks. "Choose something that can do double-duty," says Gibbons, who styled this gold stunner in her home in Harlem, NY. "This double-stand cart fits in next to my couch and also functions as a side table."

The essentials

"Having at least one foolproof, easy-to-make signature cocktail is a must when entertaining," says Gibbons. "You'll look like a total pro and are sure to impress your guests." With just these six foundational spirits—a craft whiskey, a Kentucky bourbon, a quality rum, a gin, and a couple of interesting cordials, you can create countless drinks. We particularly love Art in the Age Snap, which evokes freshly baked ginger snaps, and Rhubarb, which acts like a vodka sub-in, but with cardamom and pink peppercorn flavors. 

Dark and snappy

Sweet and stiff, this take on a dark and stormy is easy to love and equally easy to make.

1 oz Snap
1 oz Sailor Jerry rum
4 oz ginger beer
Lime wedge, for garnish

Add ingredients to a mixing tin and stir. Serve over ice in a rocks or highball glass. Garnish with lime wedge.

Negroni twist

Steal this not-too-bitter take on one of our favorite before-dinner drinks, the Negroni, which subs in Rhubarb Tea for gin.

2 parts Rhubarb Tea
2 parts Campari
2 dashes Rose's lime juice
Orange rind, for garnish

Mix ingredients in a mixing tin. Roll back and forth into shaker and serve over ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with orange rind.

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Celebrate National Hot Toddy Day With This Delicious Recipe

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Thanks to our friends over at Art in the Age, we have a delicious recipe for you to celebrate with during National Hot Toddy Day today! With tastes of honey, ginger, lemon, and SNAP organic liquor (think gingersnap cookie flavor), this Polar Vortex just got a little warmer. Enjoy the recipe below!

Buttered SNAP Hot Toddy from Art in the Age


4 parts SNAP

2 tbsp honey

1 tsp fresh grated ginger

2 lemon slices

12 parts hot water (just below boiling)

1 tsp butter


Divide the first four ingredients between two heatproof cups or mugs. Add the hot water and then divide the butter between the cups. Steep for 3-4 minutes before drinking.

Remember, great cocktails start with responsible measuring!

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