American Whiskey: Messin' 'Round The Old Mawn-Nonga-Heelah


"Ja, and jes' who d'ja t'ink's a-gonna buy dat old BROWN viskey ya got dare, eh, Mister? Smells like it's been in da barrel two, mebbe t'ree, years or more! Schurr ain't like the rye mine grossfodder made!"

From the Beginning " It wasn't always Bourbon, you know...."
Blue Blazes Distillery Catoctin Park
1730's Although named for a later prohibition-era bootleg operation, this National Park Service display shows what the earliest single-farm pioneer distillery equipment was like.
Shreve's Distillery Perryopolis 1790   Whiskey distilling goes from home-made to professionally made as a service offered by the local grist mill.
The Whiskey Rebellion  The story of American whiskey is the story of America
West Overton Distillers
Old Farm
West Overton (Scottdale) 1810   Distilling becomes a trade in its own right. Whiskey making as a primary occupation, with distilled liquor made to sell publicly
A. Overholt & Co.
Old Overholt
Broad Ford 1836   Once a service where farmers could have whiskey made from their grain, distilleries now buy grain to produce their own brands.
Sam Thompson West Brownsville 1844   Some say this was the best Old Monongahela Rye ever made.
The Large Distillery Large 1850s They called their whiskey "Large" for over half a century before Prohibition. National Distillers bottled it as "Old Overholt" afterward.
John Gibson's Son & Co. Gibsonton
(Belle Vernon)
1850s  By the turn of the century, this was the world's largest producer of rye whiskey. Also known as Moore & Sinnott, By 1923 Gibson was completely destroyed by Prohibition, from which it never recovered.
Fry & Mathias Manor
(sometimes identified as Monarch)
1880s  The Joseph Mathias & Co. distillery (Fry & Mathias) produced fine rye whiskey for sale to wholesalers and merchants. They also produced brands of their own, "Old Westmoreland" and "Old Manor". Long after the distillery was forced closed by prohibition, "Old Westmoreland" was being marketed by Ruffsdale Distillery.
A. Guckenheimer & Bros. Freeport   1880s  One of American whiskey's real tragedies. Once western Pennsylvania's prestige luxury brand, "Good Old Guckenheimer" was an award-winning superstar prior to Prohibition. Afterward, it's new owners chose to feature brands that were cheaper to produce, while continuing to exploit the Guckenheimer name and reputation until it no longer had any.
Schenley Distilling Company
The Joseph S. Finch Co.
Schenley 1900   One of the twentieth century's monster brands, Schenley once owned the contents of one out of every four barrels of American whiskey. It began with this distillery in the town it was named for.
Sam Dillinger:
The Ruffsdale Distillery
Ruff's Dale Before and after Prohibition   Many of those barrels Schenley once owned were filled with rye whiskey produced at this distillery, located in a tiny hamlet in Westmoreland county. Their own stable of brands survived well into the 1960s.
Greensburg Distilling Greensburg Greensburg Distilling made rye whiskey until Prohibition at a building along South Main Street. It was too dark and rainy and late the first time we visited this area. The next time we saw it was in 2004 with Sam Komlenic. The site, at the foot of Green Street, is now the offices of the Westmoreland County Blind Association, with an industrial fuel & solvent company in the back. What had probably been the mill creek now flows across the property in a concrete trough, and there is an old, three-story brick building way in the back that might once have been a whiskey warehouse. Otherwise, there is no longer any trace of this distillery.
And coming soon to a computer screen near you!
Baker Jefferson Twp, Somerset County Baker whiskey, which achieved some fame, was made by Henry Baker in Jefferson Township, Somerset County, who built a large distillery sometime after 1813. This would be about as far east as Monongahela whiskey would go. After that you've got only mountains.
Gray German Twp and Greensburg Sylanus Gray's was the only distillery left in Fayette's German Township in the 1880s, making 105,000 gallons a year. Another Gray's distillery earlier was in Greene County, north of Greensburg. We'd like to find where they were.
New Adventures and Topics Coming up!
A Different Kind of Whiskey:  Riding the Cumberland Trail into Tennessee Whiskey History

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Story and original photography ©2003-2006 by John F. Lipman. All rights reserved