Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dusty Thursday: Older Overholt - Pennsylvania Rye circa 1940

I recently compared the current Beam produced Old Overholt to the National Distillers version made at the Old Grand-Dad distillery in Kentucky. Now, a generous soul has sent me a sample of Overholt from 1940. At the time, Overholt was owned by National Distillers, but they were still making it in Pennsylvania. This is only my second tasting of an old Pennsylvania rye, but let's see how it stacks up.

Old Overholt (circa 1940), 4 years old, 50% abv.

The nose on this is really nice with sandalwood and other spice notes along with some vanilla and a dash of maple syrup. That sandalwood carries through on the palate with some soapy type notes (in a good way). The finish is bold and spicy like cologne.

I've only had one other Pennsylvania Rye, but this Overholt tastes much more like that one than any of the other Overholts I've had. As I said then, the spiciness is less in the character of cooking spices, which I detect in modern ryes, and more in the character of wood, soap and subtle cologne. I assume some of that is due to a high rye content and a lack of corn but is probably also due to elements, such as yeast and water, that were specific to that particular industry in that particular location.

Having had two Pennsylvania ryes now, what is becoming clear to me is that Pennsylvania was more than a geography, it was a distinct style of whiskey which no longer exists today and may not be able to be recreated.


tmckenzie said...

Interesting, I have never had any PA rye. Any idea what the mashbill was on it?

sku said...

Tom, I asked Sam K., who is the authority on PA whiskey and according to him, it would likely have been a very high rye masnbill (like 60-70% ) containing a small percentage of corn and some malt.

Jordan said...

How do you feel like this compares to some of the Canadian 100% ryes making their way down here lately?

sku said...

Jordan, great question. They really weren't similar at all. The two Pennsylvania ryes I tried have a sandalwood, wood grain thing going on, while the Canadian straight ryes (WhistlePig and Masterson's are the ones I've tried) have a distinctively briny note.

sam k said...

Many Monongahela ryes (at least those from the bigger and more famous Mon distillers) were aged in warehouses that were kept warm year-round. In the winter, steam heat kept the warehouses between 70 and 80 degrees.

Northwestern PA's Meadville distillery (not a Mon distiller) even had two warehouses that were heated by forced hot air as of 1894. That had to make a HUGE difference in how the aging process proceeded (can you imagine the evaporation rate?) They even touted that heating method in some of their advertising.

In summer, with the heat off, they were allowed to get to ambient temperature. The Overholt warehouses could have been heated year round until they closed in the 1960s (distilling ended in 1951). This HAD to produce a distinctly different product from the Kentucky distilleries that continually rise and fall with seasonal temperatures.

It definitely shows two distinct and different trains of thought in how aging should be handled. Consider too the slightly cooler summers in PA.

While I'm kind of on the subject, I have to say that I never bough into the "whiskey expanding into and out of the barrel" theory. I think that whiskey soaks into the wood and stays there year-round, passing the the charred barrel into the whiskey (and vice versa) constantly regardless of the season. Might be a bit more pressure in the summer, but the whiskey's already as deep as it's gonna get.