West Overton’s rye whiskey heritage comes full circle
The new copper still commanding center stage in West Overton Village and Museum’s stock barn is a tribute to the site’s past and future.
In a sense, the East Huntingdon historical site is coming full circle with ongoing plans to open a distillery on its grounds in 2019.
“This has been a long time in the works. Construction is under way now, the equipment is here and we should start having visitors come through next year,” says Jessica Kadie-Barclay, facility CEO.
According to museum history, the first business conducted at the village was distilling rye whiskey in a very small distillery built from logs.
Prohibition brought distilling to a halt at West Overton. But the Overholts’ sister company at Broad Ford, in Connellsville Township, was granted a permit to distill “medicinal whiskey” by Andrew Mellon, then secretary of the Treasury and part owner of the distillery.
Breweries, wineries and distilleries are enjoying a long run of popularity, she notes.
“I used to way ‘We’re not Pittsburgh, and that’s OK.’ Now I say, ‘We’re not Pittsburgh, and that’s awesome.’ … We are a destination now,” she says.
More important than tapping into a tourism trend, she notes, is offering visitors yet another example of the industries that once thrived at the village hundreds of years ago.
“All the other buildings in this whole property, this village, came up around the industry of making rye whiskey. That’s why it’s so central to the story that we tell here,” Kadie-Barclay says.
Building a piece
The project recently received a $30,000 grant from West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund, which will complete energy efficiency upgrades.
“The fund is pleased that it could assist with (West Overton’s) efforts to renovate its small stock barn into a new, working small distillery. The energy efficiency upgrades will provide (West Overton) with reduced utility bills and these savings can be reinvested back into (its) core activities,” energy fund director Joel Morrison says in a news release.
The new venture operates under the legal name of West Overton Distilling Company, with the new product’s name yet to be decided.
“We know we are going to make a rye whiskey,” she says. The hope is to use locally grown rye in its manufacture, from nearby Fort Allen Antique Farm Equipment Association.
Additionally, another rental venue option — its big brick barn already is a popular wedding reception site — will offer residents the chance to hold small, upscale functions and spend their dollars close to home. The distillery loft will seat about 40, museum administrators say. “It should be perfect for rehearsal dinners, cocktail hours,” says Aleasha Monroe, site chief of staff.
Toast to tradition
Project construction is expected to be complete by year’s end.
“That (time frame) is different from when (the loft) will be available for rental. That is different from when we will be offering tastings,” Kadie-Barclay notes.
Tours of the whiskey processing section, sampling and sales are planned.
Some alcohol will be available soon after production; some will be aged, staff members say.
Kadie-Barclay, manager of learning and guest experience Aaron Hollis, and museum board members John Faith and Sam Komlenic recently took a field trip of sorts to Liberty Pole Spirits in Washington County.
“We are experimenting. We are making something small. … The whiskey is a (museum) by-product,” she emphasizes.
The museum has other big plans looming, including the planned World War II homefront exhibit set to open in February.
“We are really proud of what’s going on here,” Kadie-Barclay says.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-836-5401, [email protected] or via Twitter @MaryPickels.