Rye whiskey, once Pennsylvania’s premier potable export, will make a return to its origins for the first time since National Distillers moved Old Overholt’s production to Kentucky following Prohibition’s repeal when newly launched Mountain Laurel Spirits begins rolling out its first production of Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye in the coming months. The new distillery founded by Herman Mihalich, a chemical engineer turned distiller, set up shop back in June at the Grundy Mill factory complex in nearby Bristol, Bucks County. Since then Mihalich and his lone employee have been hard at work, assembling their 500-gallon, imported-from-Germany Carl artisan distillation system and 1,200-gallon fermentation tanks, and developing a recipe with the help of Michigan State’s University’s engineering department. “We’re now implementing that recipe on our equipment and doing a little fine tuning,” Mihalich told Grub Street. “But I hope be dialed in pretty soon.”
With the first production imminent, Mihalich still has to wait on label approval from the federal government before he can bring Dad’s Hat to market. “I’ll be happy if we can get our white rye, un-aged spirit on the market by the end of the year,” Mihalich said. He added that in addition to the roll-out of his “white dog,” he expects to have a barrel-aged rye ready for shipping in spring 2012.
The whiskey itself is modeled after the time honored Pennsylvania rye whiskey — or Monongahela rye — a sweeter variety of whiskey that originated 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 said. “And at the same time update it so its palatable for everybody to drink.”