Overholt Rye whiskey, once owned by Mellon family, to be auctioned in Kentucky
Someone next week will have a shot at buying a historic bottle of whiskey distilled in Westmoreland County that typically fetches more than $1,000 a shot, on the rare occasion it can be found.
On Thursday, a 1909 bottle of Overholt Rye whiskey — passed down through the Mellon family and previously inherited by late Tribune-Review publisher Richard Mellon Scaife — will be offered at Speed Art Museum’s “Art of Bourbon” auction in Louisville.
It is expected to fetch between $10,000 and $15,000 at auction and, according to bourbon experts, is frequently referred to as “the unicorn of whiskeys.”
“A 1.5-ounce pour will set you back $1,250, and that’s if you can even get it,” said bourbon expert Fred Minnick, who is serving as the auction curator. “It has such a historic taste. They just don’t make whiskey like that anymore.”
The auction will consist of 54 total lots, and it is expected to be a who’s-who of the bourbon world, according to organizers.
“Bourbon royalty — families with last names like Van Winkle, Brown, Samuels, Henderson and Dedman — will gather under the museum’s Beaux-Arts roof for the event. Guests will mingle with master distillers, members of the old-guard bourbon families, distillery executives and founders of new distilleries that have sprung up on and off the Kentucky Bourbon Trail,” according to a Speed release.
Proceeds will benefit the art institution’s education programs and exhibitions.
Tickets are $200 and include a cocktail hour, bourbon tastings and a seated dinner.
In the early 20th century, Andrew Mellon purchased a third of the Overholt whiskey distillery from Henry Clay Frick, a great-grandson of the distillery’s founder. When Frick died in 1919, he left his Overholt shares to Mellon, making him the distillery’s majority owner.
Following Scaife’s death in 2014, a wine cellar was discovered containing about 60 cases of Overholt Rye bottled between 1901 and 1912. Those cases were auctioned by Christie’s, and six of them were bought by Speed patron Marc Abrams, who donated a bottle to Speed.
The history of Old Overholt dates to April 1800 when Henry Overholt, his wife and their 12 children moved from Bucks County to Westmoreland County, settling around Jacobs Creek in East Huntingdon, according to the West Overton Village & Museums site. His first business here was distilling rye whiskey.
Production continued until 1919, when the 18th Amendment — Prohibition — was enacted.
Andrew Mellon, then secretary of the Treasury and part owner of the distillery, granted a license to distill “medicinal whiskey” at the Overholts’ sister company at Broad Ford, Connellsville Township.
West Overton this year established a new distillery on the original property, bringing whiskey production back for the first time in a century.
WhiskeyAdvocate.com calls Old Overholt the only brand to maintain “undeniable ties” to Monongahela-style rye whiskey — a pure rye or high rye version that was popularly made in Western Pennsylvania.
Old Overholt is now produced by a subsidiary of Beam Suntory. Its label still contains a likeness of Abraham Overholt — son of Henry and grandfather of Frick, who took over distilling operations in 1810 and marketed “Old Farm Pure Rye.” After his death in 1870, the brand was renamed Old Overholt in his honor, and his scowling portrait was added to the label.
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .