Pennsylvania vodka may join the parade

Western Pennsylvania once was the unofficial center of American alcohol distilling.

It was there that President George Washington had to put down what became known as the Whiskey Rebellion when predominantly Scoth-Irish farmers refused to pay ever-increasing taxes on their whiskies. Many of them pulled up stakes and moved to Virginia and Kentucky, and the whisky business in the Keystone State essentially dried up.

A local businessman has thoughts of returning the region to alcohol-based riches by taking advantage of the worlwide boom in vodka consumption.

Marketing consultant C. Prentiss Orr Jr., buoyed by a $165,000 state grant, Pittsburgh businessman is looking into distilling western Pennsylvania potatoes into premium vodka.

"We're in the very early stages of our research, but I'm intrigued with the possibilities," says Orr, 50, who organized Pennsylvania Pure Distilleries LLC. Orr previously served as a vice president of the Greater Pittsburgh Area Chamber of Commerce. He was quoted in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review newspaper.

Orr estimates that 1.3 million pounds of potatoes grown locally would enable him to distill about 50,000 bottles of vodka. He said a feasibility study funded by the state grant will include marketing and branding options.

Vodka accounts for 27 percent of U.S. liquor consumption, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

If Orr's explorations lead to actual production, his would be the third distillery in the nation to make vodka exclusively from potatoes. The existing ones are Distilled Resources inc. in Rigby, ID, which makes Teton Glacier vodka, and Maine Distilleries, which recently introduced Cold River vodka.

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