It is only fitting that the oldest whiskey brand in America has the word old in its title. With origins in Pennsylvania, it is a rye whiskey that has been available under the name Old Overholt for more than 214 years. First, brand recognition was by barrel and then, later, by bottle across the country.

A bottle of Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey

Pennsylvania roots

A Mennonite farmer, Henry Oberholzer, with German ancestry, acquired 150 acres on the banks of Jacobs Creek in Western Pennsylvania. The farm grew rye to satisfy their growing distilling operation. Later, the Oberholzer name changed to Overholt, an English version. In 1800, this area of Pennsylvania was West Overton, located approximately 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. His son, Abraham, took over the business in 1810 and was able to grow the business consistently. Before long, consumers asked for Overholt’s Old Rye. Typically, only the most significant distilleries products were asked for by name. This distillery grew from 12 gallons of rye whiskey daily to 860 gallons by 1859.

Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Mellon

Abrahams’s grandson Henry Clay Frick was already wealthy when he took control of Old Overholt in 1881. One of his partners was banker and businessman Andrew Mellon. Old Overholt was successful and profitable but was a sentimental business for Frick. As the country was moving toward prohibition, Frick and Mellon removed their names from the Overholt distilling license but continued to operate the company. Eventually, when prohibition became federal law, Old Overholt received a medicinal license to sell existing whiskey stocks. After Frick died, Mellon sold his share of the company under pressure from the prohibition-minded public.

Old Overholt becomes official.

By 1888, Old Overholt became the official name of the whiskey, using a lithotype image of Abraham Overholt on the label. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the whiskey-consuming public often requested Old Overholt whiskey. Old Overholt was sold again in 1932 to National Distillers Products Corporation, which also became known as the infamous Whiskey Trust. With prohibition ending, National Distillers bought vast amounts of existing whiskey stocks. Old Overholt was one of their strategic purchases.

The only national rye whiskey

After World War II, Old Overholt and rye whiskey fell out of favor. As with many brown whiskeys, the brand struggled to find a market in the 1970s and was the only nationally marketed rye whiskey in America. In 1987, the James B. Beam Distilling Company purchased Old Overholt. At this time, the company’s production moved from Pennsylvania to Kentucky. There are two varieties of Old Overholt, including an 86-proof bottle and a 100-proof bottled-in-bond release.

Whiskey history

The next time you are having a sip at your local tavern, be sure to ask the bartender if they know whose picture is on the Old Overholt label. Mention that it is the oldest whiskey brand in America, and you will show off your whiskey knowledge. Cheers, and enjoy! For another review of a great rye whiskey follow this LINK.