The Whiskey Rebellion focus of West Overton's Parlor Talk
By Linda Harkcom
Published: Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, 6:23 p.m.
The Whiskey Rebellion will be the focus of the next Parlor Talk at West Overton Village & Museums on Sunday.
Mark Meyer, co-owner of Wigle Whiskey in Pittsburgh, will present “The Whiskey Rebellion and Making Whiskey Today” from 2 to 4 p.m. at the museum located along Route 819 near Scottdale.
“I am excited about speaking at West Overton because it is part of a rich Western Pennsylvania history — the making of rye whiskey. Western Pennsylvania, including the famous ‘Pure Rye' whiskey made at West Overton and then at Broadford, was the center of the rye whiskey world for many, many years. When people drank rye whiskey, they immediately thought of Western Pennsylvania in the same way that people today associate bourbon (whiskey made from corn) with Kentucky,” Meyer said.
After more than 35 years as an attorney, Meyer retired and joined his family in starting a new business making whiskey.
“My adult children were all employed in different careers in law, business and government, but were itching to start their own venture. After being inspired by visiting several family wineries in Canada, we decided to do our part to help revive the once proud tradition of making whiskey in Western Pennsylvania,” Meyer said.
Always identifying with underdogs, Meyer and his family named their Pittsburgh whiskey after Phillip Wigle, who stood up for his right to keep on making whiskey during the Whiskey Rebellion. In 1794, Wigle was sentenced to hang for defending his right to distill. His tussle with a tax collector unwittingly sparked a rebellion, which pitted Pennsylvania distillers against George Washington's troops.
Like Wigle, Meyer fought for the right to sell whiskey. He said he spent a few years working with the two other small distilleries in the state to push for passage of a law allowing a small craft distillery to sell directly to consumers in the same way that a Pennsylvania winery is allowed.
“The governor signed the law in 2011, and we have now been producing and selling whiskey, gin, rum and bitters from our distillery site at 2401 Smallman St. in Pittsburgh's Strip District. We make everything from grain to bottle, and we are now increasing our production so that we will soon be available in stores in Western Pennsylvania,” Meyer said.
Meyer said his company's spirits are used by more than 60 restaurants and bars in the Pittsburgh area, and tours of the distillery are given every Saturday. Those interested in tours can sign up online at the company's website: www.wiglewhiskey.com.
Meyer said he will talk about the fascinating story of the Whiskey Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania in the 1790s.
“It is the story of how the Western Frontier rose in rebellion against the administration of George Washington and his Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, over what Hamilton called a ‘sin tax' on whiskey production. I think people will find the story compelling because it was the first test of the fledging federal government and the issues people debated then are so similar to the issues we are debating today over the scope of the government, taxation and fairness between large and small producers,” Meyer said.
“We look forward to welcoming Mark Meyer and to discuss whiskey-making in Southwestern Pennsylvania. It is appropriate that Mark was invited to talk about this topic at West Overton as this industry is a part of our history. As you may know, Old Overholt whiskey was named for Abraham Overholt, a farmer and distiller and grandfather of American industrialist Henry Clay Frick. The whiskey was originally distilled in Broadford, Pa., but now is distilled by A. Overholt & Co., a subsidiary of Beam Inc.,” said Jessica Kadie Barclay, managing director, West Overton Village & Museums.
West Overton Parlor Talks are sponsored by The Scottdale Bank & Trust Company. Those attending are asked to please make a donation at the door on the day of the event.
Linda Harkcom is a contributing writer.
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