One of the whiskey distilleries that deserves a closer look in Pennsylvania is Mountain Laurel Spirits, makers of Dad’s Hat Rye. While so many whiskey distilleries began to introduce spirits other than whiskey to the market, Mountain Laurel Spirits only ever intended to produce rye whiskey. Every ounce of spirit they create with their German-made pot still goes into barrels to become Dad’s Hat Rye.
Dad’s Hat Rye was the brainchild of Herman Mihalich, who grew up immersed in and around his family’s bar in Monessen, Pa. He studied Chemical Engineering at UPenn, where he would meet most of the partners he would incorporate into Mountain Laurel Spirits. He gained experience in the workplace after school in pharmaceuticals, flavor and fragrance, but would return to his passion in the early 2000’s. It was at Michigan State University’s artisan distilling program that he developed his recipe for Dad’s Hat- 80% rye, 15% barley and 5% malted rye for fun. This recipe is not arbitrary, but based on historically accurate Pennsylvanian style rye mashbills from before Prohibition. Herman will not admit to it, preferring to call his style simply Pennsylvanian style, but this type of whiskey of high rye content is a Monongahela style rye. It is wonderfully refreshing to be from Pennsylvania and know that this traditional style rye is being made, and being made well, right here in our state again after being extinct for so long.
I wrote yesterday about how most distilleries came into existence in Pennsylvania after the law changed in 2011. Dad’s Hat was established in 2010! They were the first rye whiskey to be made in Pennsylvania in over two decades! I am personally excited about their company because of their commitment to local production, not only in the grain itself (from Lancaster and Bucks Counties) but the labels and bottles too! Their location in Bristol, Pennsylvania draws tourists to out of the city to a town long in need of support and a renaissance. Herman Mihalich and his partner, John Cooper, are interested in more than just producing a great whiskey, though they are having great success there. They are supportive of local grain farming, American whiskey history, local businesses and their community. Their successes are shared by Philadelphia, the surrounding suburbs and all the merchants that contribute to their business.
Dad’s Hat Rye made its debut in 2012. The first products to reach the market were the Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey aged in 15 gallon barrels and their white dog, which has recently been phased out. Their standard release is aged for 6-9 months in smaller barrels and vatted together for consistency from batch to batch. Only half of the stainless steel vatting tank is ever empty, ready for new barrels to be added. Larger 53 gallon barrels are being employed to craft their straight ryes (and their not yet released three year old). The Dad’s Hat team has also created a port barrel finished rye and a vermouth barrel finished rye (the only one of its kind, designed for mixing Manhattans!) which diversifies their line and encourages bartenders to get creative.
It is wonderful to see Dad’s Hat Rye on bar shelves across the country. After 3 years, they are now in 12 states and as many foreign countries! Herman speaks fluent French which comes in handy at the Parisian whiskey festivals where his whiskey is well received. They continue to win awards, most recently the Pennsylvania Distillery Award of Excellence at the American Whiskey Convention on March 25th. I wish Dad’s Hat all the best in the years to come! It’s exciting to see Pennsylvania bring back the good stuff. Cheers!