I recently had the opportunity to visit Mountain Laurel Spirits in Bristol, PA, where Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye is distilled, aged, and bottled. I loved my time there and will definitely be back. In my experience with various alcohols, it’s a great feeling when seeing the alcohol being made lends a greater appreciation to the beverage itself. So it is with Dad’s Hat Rye for me.
The distillery is brimming with history. There are old, dusty bottles lining the bar and black and white pictures of Pittsburgh bartenders serving Pennsylvania’s finest (rye that is). Dad’s Hat is made the Pennsylvania way, with just rye and malt, and every care is taken to create the finest, most authentic product possible. Both the distillery and the whiskey emerging from it have perfectly blended the technology of modern distilling with the tradition of Pennsylvania rye.
Mountain Laurel Spirits is a throwback to the old industrial distilleries of historical Pennsylvania. There is an ancient mystery to the distillery when you visit it, as if you’ve been transported back in time 100 years to a time when American whiskey drinkers loved rye. The founders’ love of Pennsylvania rye seems to seep out of the walls, themselves. In fact, the history of rye whiskey in the commonwealth hangs on the walls behind the wooden bar through old bottles, jars, pictures, and other memorabilia. The distillery itself is in an old, industrial area of greater Philadelphia, surrounded my old homes and old buildings. There is even history oozing from the Master Distiller, Herman Mihalich.
Herman is a Pennsylvania native whose parents ran a bar in greater Pittsburgh in the days when Pennsylvania rye ruled the American whiskey market. Pennsylvania rye was in Herman’s blood from day one, and that comes through when you are lucky enough to converse with him on the subject. There is a deep emotional connection to the spirit for him, lending a care and attention to detail necessary for a great whiskey (a lifetime’s experience as a chemical engineer doesn’t hurt either).
I have reviewed two Dad’s Hat whiskeys to this point (Pennsylvania Rye & Vermouth Finish), enjoying both of them. The third whiskey in their current portfolio is their Port Finish, a whiskey that defies the category of rye entirely. It is sweeter than you would expect from a rye whiskey, but there is some wood and spice enough to round it out. Its best function is as a digestif with a rich, slightly tart slice of cheesecake. Trust me on this one; no need to thank me.
Dad’s Hat whiskey is one of the few whiskeys matured entirely in quarter casks that manages to come out as an excellent whiskey. This speaks to Herman’s meticulous nature as a distiller, using only the purest heart of his run, and, along with John Cooper, managing their stocks to perfection. If you are wondering if Dad’s Hat is experimenting with full barrels, the answer is a resounding affirmative. Dad’s Hat’s next release will most likely be a straight whiskey, aged entirely in their 53 gallon barrels. I had a chance to sip a few sips from these barrels and my face nearly melted off. The whiskey maintained all of the rye vigor of the standard Pennsylvania rye coupled with an overlay of vanilla and rich berry fruits. I cannot wait until the first bottles of this stuff hits the Pennsylvania shelves.
It was a fantastic day down in Bristol, PA, and I am very thankful for Herman for hanging out after the tour to chat a few minutes. Its worth a trip there if you can. If you can’t make it down the distillery, give Dad’s Hat rye a try. It’s what craft whiskey is meant to be.