Old Overholt Rye Whiskey 1908 White Foil

OLD OVERHOLT RYE WHISKEY 1908 WHITE FOIL

SPIRIT: Rye

VOLUME: 1 Qt

ABV/PROOF: 50/100

AGE: 4-12 years

Probably no single whiskey brand better embodies the rich history of American rye than Old Overholt, and no single expression of Old Overholt is more coveted than the 1908 and 1909 private bottlings done for Andrew Mellon.

 Old Overholt has its roots in a village south of Pittsburgh called West Overton, less than a generation after Alexander Hamilton led a column of federal troops into the region to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion. A young man named Abraham Overholt arrived there with his family in the early 1800s and began distilling in 1810, using a mash bill heavy with rye and malted barley and produced in a three-chamber still, all hallmarks of the Old Monongahela style of rye. His whiskey drew a following, and in 1859 the family expanded to a site a few miles away called Broad Ford. By the turn of the century it was one of the largest distilleries in the world, with its own worker’s housing, reached by a footbridge across the Youghiogheny River.

 Henry Clay Frick, the Gilded Age tycoon and Abraham Overholt’s grandson, took control of Broad Ford in 1881. The whiskey had been bottled under a variety of names, and sometimes no name at all. Frick created the Old Overholt label, and within a decade it was among the most popular brands in the country. Cowboys out West loved its intense flavor; bartenders in Eastern cities loved it for cocktails.

 At some point after the turn of the century Frick brought in his friend and fellow Pennsylvania tycoon Andrew Mellon as a one-third investor. When Frick died in 1919, Mellon assumed full control. But after Prohibition became the law of the land, and Mellon became secretary of the Treasury, owning a distillery became politically untenable, and he sold it in 1925, even though Old Overholt held a rare license to sell “medicinal” whiskey.

 Wisely, Mellon kept several cases of whiskey for himself, and to share with friends. His love for whiskey became a part of pop culture, including a subplot in the series “Boardwalk Empire,” with James Cromwell playing Mellon. Old Overholt eventually came under the control of National Distillers, based in Kentucky, and the new owner eventually moved production to Kentucky.

 Mellon did not get around to distributing (or drinking) much of his 60-case stash, and it passed through multiple generations. In the 1930s his son Paul had the entire collection strained and rebottled, with new labels designed to replicate the originals; he also used a screwcap instead of a cork as a closure. Eventually the estate of one of his descendants, Richard Mellon Scaife, put the remaining bottles  up for auction in 2015. 

Because the whiskey was privately bottled, little information appears on the label. Rare for an American rye, the bottles are vintage dated, running from 1904 to 1912, though there is some dispute over whether the dates correspond to the years they were bottled. What is certain is that these bottles are literally whiskey history, telling a story about the spirit, and the country, unrivaled by virtually any other expression.

Release: Old Overholt Rye Whiskey

Spirit: Pennsylvania Rye Whiskey

Misc.: Distilled at the Old Overholt Broad Ford Distillery in Broad Ford, Penn.

Collectors’ tips: Because of their age and the fact that they were apparently underappreciated by Mellon’s descendants, most of the bottles show significant wear, especially on the label. Be careful to examine the plastic closure, though. If it shows significant cracking, that could mean a problem in terms of long-term evaporation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *