Food and Drink

Friday Food and Drink Post: The Water of Life

It’s not like this subject hasn’t been discussed before, but this seems like an apt weekend to bring it up again, as it’s the second weekend in July, and therefore time for the annual Whiskey Rebellion Festival in the nearby town of Washington, PA. So it’s a good excuse (not that I ever need much of one), to discuss a subject I’m fond of anyway.

As I said in an earlier post, “In 1791, Washington was Ground Zero for the Whiskey Rebellion, perhaps the first example of the newly-minted American people becoming fed up with their government and acting up as a result of it. As with a prior iteration of ‘troubles’, the problem was a tax imposed by the government, this time on the distillation of spirits. Although the locals eventually lost the fight, Washington is justly proud of its reputation as a bit on the fractious and independent side, and the Whiskey Rebellion Festival which has been held annually since 2012 is becoming quite the Summer event.”

What I didn’t talk about in the earlier post, though, was the whiskey business itself in this area, particularly as it relates to one of my favorite spirits, rye whiskey. To put it simply, no finer rye whiskey was produced anywhere in the United States than that produced in Southwestern Pennsylvania in the late eighteenth century. It’s an artifact of history that was largely lost in the years following the Rebellion, but which has been rediscovered in the past decade, and which is being resurrected by the production of whiskies of incredibly high quality in a few local distilleries specializing in recreating an aspect of the area’s spiritual history (so to speak).

I had the happy occasion to discover just such a one when, I recently wandered in on a whim (windered in on a wham?) to the Liberty Pole Distillery on Maiden Street, and spent a lovely hour or so conversing with the proprietress of the establishment, Ellen Hough.

First of all, the distillery is located in a historic building, the 1905 Washington office of S. White & Sons, headquartered in Claysville about ten miles West of Washington, and widely believed to be the oldest monument and grave marker company in the United States. Liberty Pole has renovated the building in a historically sensitive way and is proud that it still uses the White’s elevator (don’t ponder too long what the Whites used it to “elevate”) to move its grain, especially the rye (which it acquires from local farms) from place to place. Ellen is proud to show visitors around, to explain the difference between “aging” and “finishing” and to wander through the barrels of her micro distillery where lovely scents and interesting processes abound. It’s a unique experience she generously shares (along with equally generous samples of product), and I found it utterly fascinating.

I’m pleased to say that (I think) Ellen didn’t find me utterly historically illiterate, even though, at the time of the Whiskey Rebellion, my portrait would probably have been hung upside down next to that of Alexander Hamilton (as Liberty Pole has it in its “taproom”). And so we discussed, among much else, exactly why Washington County rye whiskey was so very, very highly regarded by the colonists, and what made it so special. Our conclusion: the water. Which I’ve also written about before. God Bless Washington County water. God Bless Harry Lindley, our water witch. And please say a prayer to his spirit, as the coal mine (which came directly underneath us last year) comes across directly above us next week, for the last panel to be mined before they go away. Your prayers worked last time. Just one more. Please. For our well.)

But, I digress. (I’m imagining your surprise.)

In addition, the distillery offers tours and participates in a number of local events each year. Although it’s highly regulated by the State of Pennsylvania (gradually inching its way into the nineteenth century, when it comes to the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages), Liberty Pole Spirits are available in several local eating and drinking establishments, in a few other states, and in a fine bar in London in the UK. It has also won a few awards, nationally and internationally, pretty impressive for such a young outfit.

I highly recommend all its products. If you’re in the Pittsburgh area, please consider the Whiskey Rebellion Festival as a local event worth supporting. If you’re not far away, perhaps next year? And, if you’re not close at all, and you can’t buy it online, please lift a glass to your own local businesses, country-wide, and worldwide, that do their bit to support their friends and neighbors.

Thank you.

Now, WRT your own ideas about whiskey, or even whisky, have at it, please.

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