Craft distiller restoring PA rye luster

BRISTOL, PA -- Pennsylvania is arguably the cradle of American whiskey making. The only problem with its hold on that honor is that it hadn't been producing any of the legal variety since National Distillers moved its Old Overholt production to Kentucky after Prohibition.

Now, a craft distiller in this Bucks County community is seeking to reclaim some of the luster by rolling out its first Dad's Hat Pennsylvania Rye this fall.

The new Mountain Laurel Spirits craft distillery, founded in June by chemical engineer Herman Mihalich, is located at the Grundy Mill factory complex. He is employing a 500-gallon German artisan distillation system and 1,200-gallon fermentation tanks to produce spirits from a recipe created with the help of Michigan State’s University’s engineering department.

The whiskey is modeled after Monongahela rye, an iconic style that originated in colonial times near the Monongahela River in the southwestern corner of the state. Through research and actually digging up a bottle of long-out-of-production Sam Thompson Old Monongahela Rye, Mihalich believes he’s zeroed in on an authentic spirit.

"We’re trying to use history as a guide to create a true Pennsylvania rye whiskey,” he told Grub Street, "and at the same time update it so it's palatable for everybody to drink."

Mihalich is awaiting label approval from the federal government. He is hoping to bring his unaged white rye spirit on the market first, then have a barrel-aged rye ready for shipping in spring 2012. The Dad's Hat name is an homage to Mihalich's father, who regularly wore one.

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