These Pennsylvania distilleries, many of them in small towns, offer plenty of whiskey options.
Whiskey in the United States is as old as the colonies. Early on, it was distilled at home, by farmers who used excess grain to make the liquor.
Here in Pennsylvania, rye was the most plentiful grain. And by the late 1700s, Pittsburgh was the center of rye whisky production, according to writer Carlo DeVito in The Spirit of Rye.
Some drink historians argue that Pennsylvania is the birthplace of American whiskey because of its prolific rye production. The accuracy of that may be debatable, but there’s no arguing that one of the earliest popular styles of American whiskey was Pennsylvania’s Monongahela rye from the western part of the state made with water from the Monongahela River.
Prohibition killed Pennsylvania’s distilling industry, and it wasn’t until 2012 that the state started issuing new licenses for distilleries. In the past decade over 100 distilleries have opened in the state with whiskey — both bourbon and rye — among the top spirit many of them produce.
These nine Pennsylvania distilleries, many of them in small towns, offer plenty of whiskey options:
Blackbird Distillery, Brookville
“Real shine takes time,” says Blackbird Distillery. Blackbird is Pennsylvania’s first moonshine distillery (traditionally, moonshine is unaged whiskey), and the distillery produces 29 different varieties of handcrafted “grain to bottle” shine from a proprietary recipe. Varieties include Blackbird (a straight clear gold medal winning corn shine), Caramel Apple (great in a hot buttered caramel apple moonshine cocktail), and American Shine (a corn shine aged for 100 days in a five-gallon charred oak barrel).
Conneaut Cellars Winery & Distillery, Conneaut Lake
Conneaut Cellars Winery & Distillery started in 1983 as a winery. The distillery was added in 2013 and was the first in the region since Prohibition. Conneaut produces two whiskeys. The gold medal-winning Meadville Rye is a Monongahela rye, based on the process that local Meadville Distilling used in the early 1900s. And the Half-town Bourbon is barrel aged in charred oak barrels and hand bottled at 88-proof.
Dad’s Hat, Bristol
Whiskey Advocate’s 2017 Whiskey of the Year winner, Dad’s Hat’s mission is to create quality rye whiskey. They source their rye locally for the six varieties they currently distill: classic, straight, bonded, vermouth barrel finished, port wine barrel finished, and white rye. The distillery’s production facility offers reserved $10 tours that include a tasting, and there’s a separate nearby tasting room where visitors can enjoy cocktails made with the various Dad’s Hat ryes or select Pennsylvania wine, beer, and spirits from other distilleries.
Chicken Hill Distillery, Kersey
Chicken Hill Distillery specializes in legal moonshine. They craft almost 30 varieties of shine including the 150 proof Platinum Corn Shine, Apple Pie Moonshine, and Vanilla Cafe Mocha Moonshine. They also make two bourbons and apple flavored whiskey to round out their brown liquor offerings. At the original tasting room in Kersey, they offer a free moonshine tasting, snacks, and shine mixed drinks.
Disobedient Spirits, Homer City
Disobedient Spirits produces a variety of rye, bourbon, and other whiskeys. Their 1794 Rye is made with local rye from the Monongahela Valley. The Liberty Bourbon honors “the spirit of liberty that has driven the farmers, miners and steel workers of Western Pennsylvania.” For those who prefer to warm up with vodka, the distillery’s vodka selection is as large as its whiskey selection. Visitors to the distillery’s tasting room will find a creative cocktail menu that features Disobedient’s spirits in creative creations.
Keir Family Distillery, Warren Center
Keir Family Distillery distills its whiskey using a wood-fired process for a rich, smooth flavor. They currently offer four options: Original Wood-Fired Whiskey, Rye Whiskey, 3-Month Bourbon, and 6-Month Bourbon. Their business makes good use of the abundance of wood and corn in the area which has always been part of the backbone of the region’s economy. The distillery’s tasting room is in a restored historic barn on the family’s farm and offers a variety of cocktails that feature their whiskeys and other spirits, flights, and bottle sales.
Hungry Run Distillery, Lewistown
Established in 2015, Hungry Run Distillery takes its name from a stream that runs through the distillery’s property. Their whiskey offerings include the American Whiskey made with four grains and a Bourbon aged in charred air-dried American oak barrels. They sell a variety of hand crafted cocktails and local beer in their tasting room and frequently have live music and local food vendors to round out the tasting room experience.
Silverback Distillery, Stroudsburg
The mother-daughter distilling duo at Silverback Distillery produce their spirits from a mix of local grains and mountain water. Their spicy Blackback Rye is aged a minimum of 13 months and their Blackback Bourbon is aged at least two years and bottled from carefully selected barrels for single barrel releases. These are just are two of their many whiskey offerings. Their tasting room cocktail offerings during the colder months sometimes include spiked hot chocolate, and a bourbon hot chocolate will certainly warm anyone up on a chilly day.
Mason Dixon Distillery, Gettysburg
Mason Dixon Distillery makes one whiskey: C.S. Reaser’s Special Corn Whiskey. Corn whiskey is not barrel-aged, and Mason Dixon’s version keeps all the flavor from the locally grown corn used in the spirit. An onsite, German beer hall-inspired restaurant has a full kitchen and menu to fill you up while the spirits warm you up.
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