The Whiskey Rebellion Is Alive And Well At Liberty Pole Spirits In North Strabane
Mingo Creek Craft Distillers’ patriotic brand debuts its new “Whiskey Campus” to the public July 15.
When the Hough family, owners of Washington County’s Liberty Pole Spirits, moved business operations to Adios Drive in North Strabane, they thought they’d said good riddance to a greedy ghost. Back at the old haunt, an unknown force drained whiskey barrels dry.
Although the original location on Maiden Street in Washington will remain open as a tasting room, Ellen, who co-owns the place with her husband Jim and sons Rob and Kevin, believes the poltergeist has already made the 4-mile journey to visit the new production facility.
Even the dead can’t resist a stiff cocktail.
What started as a weekend hobby has grown into a “Whiskey Campus” that includes a five-story barrel warehouse, two pot stills and a colonial-themed tasting room known as the Meetinghouse that will delight booze enthusiasts as well as history buffs.
In just seven years, the family’s output has increased from five barrels a week to 13 with the potential for 25. Their products, which contain Bloody Butcher Red Corn and Bucks County rye, have received national attention and can be found in 70 Fine Wine and Spirits stores around the commonwealth and Pittsburgh-based Pennsylvania Libations.
The campus, which also boasts its own bottle shop, opens to the public July 15.
Since the business is nestled in the heart of Whiskey Rebellion country, the Houghs wanted to give it a patriotic name. While doing research on the 18th-century uprising of Western Pennsylvania farmers and distillers in protest of a whiskey tax enacted by the federal government, they learned about liberty poles.
Ellen describes the timbers as a sort of Revolutionary War-era form of Twitter, where one could post messages. Last spring, in lieu of a groundbreaking, the Houghs erected a liberty pole on the new property. It now stands in the Meetinghouse where the message is clear: everyone is welcome.
Despite the fact that it was 87 degrees during my visit, I wanted to sit by the roaring fireplace, wrap myself in a blanket and curl up on a chair with a good book, a snack and some sippin’ whiskey. I should’ve spoken up; I think Jim and Ellen would’ve made this happen for me.
Not only are they gracious hosts, they’re educators who have a knack for storytelling. Strike up a conversation with them and you’ll be entertained as well as informed about American history and how its intertwined with Pennsylvania rye whiskey.
It’s not every day you walk into a brand-new building and go back in time. You can still smell the lumber in the five-story rickhouse, one of the few storage facilities of its kind outside of Kentucky and Indiana. The corrugated metal building contains more than 700 barrels stacked on wooden ricks to age. It’s an impressive sight that reminded me of the ‘80s arcade game “Donkey Kong.”
Ellen also took me to the observation deck above the production facility. The scent is heavenly and we had an angel’s-eye view of the two pot stills, Howie and Harold (named after Jim’s and Ellen’s respective dads) and four 1,000-gallon fermenters.
It’s a big project with numbers that boggled this English major’s brain. I appreciate the little details such as the portrait of Alexander Hamilton that’s hanging upside down above the Meetinghouse fireplace.
Hit musical aside, the Houghs aren’t fans of Hamilton, who served as secretary of the Treasury under President George Washington. The whiskey tax was his idea.
Mockingly raise a glass to him as you enjoy a whiskey cocktail, whiskey flights, local craft beer and 18th-century-centric fare such as meat pies, smoked trout dip, apple dumplings and Johnny Cake served with sausage and local honey.
Thanks to the Houghs, the Whiskey Rebellion is still going strong in the 21st century.