Old Overholt is arguably the most enduring staple of the American whiskey landscape.  The next time you find yourself near a bottle, do me a favor.  Grab that dusty bottle of rye and look Mr. Overholt right in the eyes.  Now, you have to do this for at least a good thirty seconds, for this to work, so don’t give in to his penetrating gaze.  If you don’t crumble like some seventeen year-old kid who managed to sneak into the strip club only to be stared down by a half nude mid-thirties stripper named Candy who knows the jig is up, Ole’ Holty might take it easy on you.  If not, those yellow label manhattans, in classic Candy fashion, are likely to get the best of you in a dusty hallway closet that smells strangely of moth balls and StarKist tuna. I found this out the hard way, after I disrespected Mr. Overholt and two of his older brothers from 1930 and 1940.

Overholt’s harsh resentment towards those who disrespect him are rooted in a deep bitterness towards a drinking society which seems to regard this once proud ruler of the American whiskey market as a mere “budget brand”.  You see, back in the day, Overholt and his family were among the most respected of American farmers.  When they opted to begin distilling their rye into whiskey because of the longevity and profitability associated with selling whiskey over grain, their reputations as great farmers and distillers made Old Overholt whiskey one of the most respected brands available.

Today, the Old Overholt brand is only a lingering shadow of what had once been.  So what gives; why did this once proud whiskey lose such an admired status?  Well, it seems that, despite being the oldest continuing operating brand of American whiskey, Old Overholt is hardly the icon he used to be.  Recently, I had the opportunity to taste three different offerings of Old Overholt, and the differences in each were striking.

Old Overholt (1930) – Old Overholt was one of only a few brands allowed to be sold as a medicinal whiskey during Prohibition.  This version, bottled during this period, was fourteen years-old, sealed, and tax-stamped.  The “medicine” was bonded, with a proof of 100.

There were dramatic differences between the three bottles of Old Overholt.  The 1930 bottling was one of the best whiskies I have ever had.  Forced to sit in barrels for extended periods of time during Prohibition, the whiskey was far less hot than the younger five year bonded.  The smoothing effects of aging and complex flavors imparted by the wood were outstanding, creating a finish that lasted forever.  In my opinion, this whiskey would be able to go head-to-head with the very best of the well aged ryes on the market today, including the Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye, the Sazerac 18 Year Rye, and the Rittenhouse 21 Year Rye.  This was a rare experience, and I was grateful for the opportunity.

Old Overholt (1940) – This bottle was far younger than the first.  Nevertheless, this five year version was also bonded, sealed, and tax-stamped.

The second rye was also an excellent whiskey.  The higher proof of the Old Overholt really helped to create a unique and exciting rye.  This version was far spicier than the current bottling and had qualities similar to today’s lower-priced darling, the Rittenhouse Bonded.  We actually tasted this rye with the Rittenhouse Bonded because it was a more apt comparison.  And, for your information – yes, we had a lot of rye that night; so what?  In this case, the Old Overholt was dramatically different from the Rittenhouse.  The Overholt seemed more dynamic and lively than the Rittenhouse, which is aged for an additional year.  There was an intriguing peppery, grassy element working there that I couldn’t get away from.  I was tempted to make a manhattan with the rye because it was so ideal for this purpose, but I just couldn’t bring myself to mix with such a rare product.

Old Overholt (2009) – The Old Overholt at your local store is bottled at 80 proof and is only four years old.  Mr. Overholt is a bit upset about it.

Currently, Old Overholt is among the most subdued ryes being produced in the U.S.  Its lower proof and four year age leave quite a bit to be desired.  Granted, it is still a decent whiskey that works surprisingly well in certain cocktails, but, it is by no means close to the previous two versions.  Sure, comparing it to the fourteen year-old version is a little unfair; however, the five year-old version really only has a one year and twenty proof difference.  The Old Overholt brand was also distilled by different producers since 1940 and is now owned by a larger corporation, but something in me tells me there is still a good whiskey there.  There is a long list rye freaks who for years have asked for a 100 proof Old Overholt that is aged longer, but I guess we will have to continue to wait.  There is potential and history in that bottom shelf bottle; let Overholt gain his sense of pride back!

Still don’t believe me about the power of the Old Overholt gaze?  Well, the next time you and Mr. Overholt venture down the long, painful road of excess, you’ll regret not taking my advice as you pull your face from a rocky, stained porcelain lover and flush – the portrait of Ole’ Holty will appear.  From the swirling waters, his powerful eyes will stare you down; only this time, you won’t dare look away.


  1. Neal says:

    Nice to hear you’re hard at it engaging in hardearned ‘research’ ! I had the pleasure of trying the Buffalo Trace 8 yr last week…very interesting notes in that one…
    Looking forward to seeing the place…may try to stop by this week to drop off your book and shirt you left at the party.

  2. libs says:

    nice.. I am jealous..

  3. Thank you for this great post. I recently bought the Sazerac 18 on the advice of the local expert who said Old Overholt was once the preferred brand of real rye drinkers. After that he sort of shrugged and said Beam was passable. When I said I wanted something good – he gave me the Sazerac. But I was there for nostalgic reasons, my Grandather was a rye drinker and I wanted it on my bar – I wondered after that exactly which rye he must have preferred… now I am really wondering…

  4. Tex says:

    Um, Bobby, how the F*ck did you get your hands on Prohibition-era OO? I love/hate you.

  5. Justin says:

    Tex, there’s a (fairly uninteresting) story behind where that bottle came from, but we’ll talk about that over a glass of rye once Anvil is up and running. Unfortunately, that bottle is empty, but I do still have some of the second bottle (plus a whole other bottle that’s not opened yet). I’ll happily ear-mark some of that for you if you think you’ll make down our way at some point.

  6. Doug Winship says:

    Bravo. Simply a great read, Robert!

    FWIW, I like the old coot myself. He still mixes a better Manhattan than almost any whippersnapper Bourbons I’ve tried.

  7. Bill says:

    So, so jealous. I’m with Tex–how on earth did you get your hands on that product and where, oh where can I try it?

  8. Trip Overholt says:

    Well now, as a direct descendant of the old man himself, your respect for the family heirlooms does bring joy to the gene pool. I myself came up on the short end of a stare down with a bottle of the old man’s vintage 1940 (as I recall) 121 proof . Ah yes, in 1976, as a rising freshman in college, I consumed three quarters of it. That was the first time I ever found myself crawling on all fours staring through eyes that could not see. For several hours that evening, death would have been welcomed over the spiraling nausea ride of His awesome delirium.

    As for the taste, I must admit I am no connoisseur, but I did find it markedly more “vigorous” than the bourbons I had been drinking with my cokes. I tended to grimace on the shots. But alas, I was just a boy……

    warmest regards,

    George Torrence Overholt III “Trip”

  9. George Overholt Jr. says:

    I have probably the oldest bottle of Old Overholt still around – distilled in 1888.
    Might open it and have a snifter some day, but not as much as my son (above)!

  10. Makes for a helluva sour!

  11. Milenko Ralich says:

    I have just come into possession of a post-Prohibition (1930’s), numbered #746, aged 6 1/2 years and 123 proof select Old Overholt. Unopened and in a special bottle-sized box. I am imaging this as being something special. Can anyone tell me anything about this? Thanks.

  12. Justin says:

    I can tell you that you should drink it.

  13. Daryl says:

    I have a 1908 sealed bottle of Special Rye Whisky and would like to find out it’s value?
    Any Idea’s anyone!

  14. Bill Kohnle says:

    Got a bottle of `Old Overshoes` from the late 40`s — Unopened — Price label says $5 .77. Go ahead and laugh — It`s all mine, to enjoy.

    Really, I didn`t know it was still available. Not the same taste, I`ll bet.

  15. Justin says:

    Bill, the late 40’s stuff was pretty good on the whole. Do check to see how long it was aged, as that will have more to do with the flavor than anything. I’ve had bottles aged for different lengths from that time period.

  16. steve says:

    Any one know where to find this wiskey in southern cali, my natural last name is overholt, I want a bottle!

  17. Lisala says:


    I’d actually try your local Rite Aid. I’m serious; there are some surprising finds there, and mostly they carry Old Overholt.

    Other than that, Trader Joe’s carries it too.

  18. Annie Bananie says:

    After reading these posts, I’m really intrigued by a bottle our family has, numbered 10957, supposed to be 6 1/2 years old in the bottle, but I can’t tell the year? It came stored in its own little wooden treasure chest.

  19. Carson says:

    I know Mr. Overholt. He’s ornery, but he’s a gentleman. Just understand that he means business.

  20. Glad to see someone else like the real Old Overholt.
    Got a bottle of the 1810 myself (1940’s) Amazing stuff.
    Bit of history if I may,
    Old Overholt was originally produced in Ohio then production moved to Michters of Pennsylvania (NO not the crap called Michters now). They produced it for quite a while I believe. Michters closed on February 14 1990and production is now at Heaven Hill.

  21. Frank James says:

    Old Overholt is great !
    My Father (God rest his soul ) believed in it ,not just as he used to say ” a good drink O Liquor ” but for medicinal purposes as well.
    He used to make a cold drink with it along with lemon and honey that would knock a cough right out and my Grandmother up in the Apallachians made hard rock candy with it.
    Nice to see some real Overholts on here ,my Dad would have gotten a kick out of telling you his love for your product.

  22. Jim says:

    I’m a bit late coming to this post. I worked for National Distillers in the 1970s when we owned Old Overholt. At that time our biggest competitor was Sam Thompson. While our business was Bourbon (Old Grand Dad, Old Taylor, Old Crow) Old Overholt held an exalted position since the Chairman’s favorite drink was an OO Manhattan.

  23. Bill says:

    I have never tried the current Old Overholt for fear of being disappointed. I have a good story: About 20 years ago an old friend of mine who knew the billionaire philanthropist Paul Mellon of Virginia was given four cases of Old O.: 1908, 1909, 1910, and 1911. I was given two bottles of 1910 and 1911 as consecutive xmas gifts. They were astounding, but I remember one vintage was better than the other. I can’t remember now which was which. Apparently, a huge cash of this stuff was buried in a room beneath the estate’s carriage house floor during prohibition by Andrew Mellon, Pauls’s father. It was discovered sometime in the ’60s and bottled. Paul said his father used to pass it off as cognac to guests. I believe this, as it did in fact taste very much like cognac. Wish I had some now!

  24. Richard e Wolak says:

    I have a bottle of Old Overholt i got from my father who use to run a gin mill.
    the label is a hand written print that reads
    This is bottle 2707 of a very select stock of rare Old Overholt Pennsylvania straight rye whiskey this whisky is 6 1/2 years old and is bottled exactly as it comes from the original barrels at 127 proof
    bottled at Broad Ford Pa by a. Overolt & Co,inc and is distributed by National Distillers products corp,New York
    signed Thomas F Brown Vice Pres
    on the back is says its distilled by Large Distilling Company Large PA

    anyone have any information or history on this bottle

  25. John says:

    I have 2 cases of Old Overholt from when my grandfather passed away in 2003. I think they are from the 60’s ??? Any ideas on whether or not they are worth anything? Thanks!

  26. kimberlie says:

    I have a bottle of this stuff and a few others from my granfather’s basement speakeasy. Originally from GA he moved north with two of his brothers. They had it set up in the basement, no joke. there is a slotmachine down there that give a 7.00 jackpot all in nickles! There is some vintage barware and a number of mottles but I decided to keep this bottle of Old Overton, a bottle of Chivas and a bottle of Bells. Is this stuff still good? Really.

  27. Joseph Cappa says:

    Where can i buy a bottle of Old Overholt Rye Whisky in Pennsylvania? Im not sure if anyone carries it anymore. Ive heard its rare and hard to find in southwestern Pa. Any help will be appreciated. Thank you. Joe

  28. Joseph Cappa says:

    If anyone knows where i can buy a bottle of Old Overholt Rye Whisky in southwestern Pa., please let me know. Its very hard to find anymore it seems. email me at ( joseph.cappa@gmail.com ) thank you. Joe

  29. Damon says:

    I’m officially on the Overholt train, after trying it for the first time last night! This stuff is delicious.

    PS- Anyone looking for it in So Cal can find it at Bevmo.

  30. JD says:

    When I came home from Basic Training in 1959, my Father bought
    a bottle of Old Overholt and he and I sat and drank it together.
    It’s the only Whiskey I have ever bought for myself and I still drink it
    “Trip, your a trip.” I can’t believe you drink it with COKE.
    That should be against the law if it isn’t.

  31. rda says:

    i have 4 quarts of overholt rye whisky distilled in west overton in 1909 sealed parchment label can anyone tell me there value

  32. That was one specific with essentially the most beneficial posts I’ve seen in a extended lengthy time. Loads of appreciated, I’m planning to have to hang around here extra.


    I have an unopened 86 proof 750ML bottle of OLD OVERHOLT STRAIGHT RYE WHISKEY with the following description on the bottom of the bottle: 66
    an anchor icon 30D 582
    9 D-1 84

    If anyone out there knows if this bottle has any value, please contact me.

  34. Bill says:

    I was looking for this stuff out hear in California for 17 or 18 years after I read in the history books that it was Tom Horn’s favorite whiskey. I finally found a bar/restaurant in a good cowtown one night just on a whim. A few month’s later I stopped by George Woolf’s(the late-great jockey)old restraunt in Arcadia,after a day at Santa Anita,called”The Derby”and found they always keep a bottle and serve it there. My Pennsylvania bred and raised father-inlaw came over to the house not long after that,and when I showed him the bottle I had bought,he bellowed,”My God,look at that,I haven’t seen a bottle of that in 40 years”.He reached for a shot-glass and took a big swig,and said,”man that is good stuff”! It seems back in his college days at Penn St. and Pitt.U.,he did bartender work to help pay expenses,and Old Overholt was still a hot item back in that part of the country.
    I wonder if it still is.
    Most places I go too have never even heard of it.Hey,anybody out there no where I can get my hands on a bottle of,Old Overholt Bourbon? Apparently they used to make it bacause I saw an old picture somewhere of a label.Sure would like to try some of that!

  35. Tom K says:

    While working in SW PA for the old Westinghouse Advanced Energy Systems Division, I had an office that Westinghouse had leased from some local outfit on Route 51 – Sawmill Run Blvd – south of Pittsburgh. The story was that the facility was a former whiskey distillery. My office was a weird setup on the top floor of the main office building. It was located on a sort of “raised platform” overlooking a bullpen where my engineers toiled away. I guess I should have felt like a whiskey baron, since it now appears that the facility may have distilled OO in the old days!

  36. Quippian says:

    Has anyone noticed that Don Draper’s drink of choice on “Mad Men” is Old Overholt?

    Also, Old Overholt makes the best “traditional” Manhattans around.

    I buy my Old Overholt at a big, bold, bright and beautiful liquor warehouse in South Carolina.
    I make my Manhattans with Old Overholt.
    And I drink a Manhattan almost daily.

    Long live Old Overholt!


  37. Craig says:

    It is my favorite in an Old Fashion!

  38. Warren G Wonka says:

    Almost all the good-sized liquor stores in Rochester, MN carry Old Overholt, Jim Beam, and Wild Turkey rye. Some carry premium rye.

  39. Edtugman says:

    Hey Bill, I spent my later teen years growing up near Sharon, PA and Youngstown, Ohio. My old man worked for U.S. Steel at several mills, including the now shuttered “McDolad Works”. The “Shenango Valley” and the “Mahoning Steel Valley” at that time still had thousands of hard working, salt of the earth steelworkers employed. A good rye whiskey was a staple in that area — not bourbon, not Canadian Whiskey and Vodka was a broad’s drink. Soon to graduate from high school, after my last last football game played, I went to a fellow player’s house for a get together. His Dad worked with mine at the mill and said “Boys, you played hard and shoulda won. But you didn’t, so now you know a little about what it’s like to be a steelworker. For that, you get my best…” as he reached under the counter and brought out a dark brown bottle with an off yellowish label. “Rye & ginger is what we drink around here, including your Dad, too.” OK, I said, as I watched him mix several glasses with the amber liquid and just a splash of Vernon’s Ginger Ale (Good stuff, too, I miss it). “Why do you all drink this?” I asked, unschooled in the Steel Valley’s first choice of libation. Mr. Stephanoski took a good drink from his glass and said “Well, a good Rye Whiskey is honest. Not mixed with a bunch of other junk to mask it’s true intended character. Sort of like the men who work here. The bit of Ginger Ale gives it just a little civility — it flows well together. Again, like the steel men here, a little civility raises them to a more noble taste, an aquired taste. Raise your glasses boys, you’re becoming men.” As I tasted my first Overhold and Ginger, it changed my drink preference for the rest of my life. “Here’s a toast we offer after the work shift…” Mr. Stephanowski said, as he raised his glass,”Here’s to our wives and girlfriends — May they never meet!”

  40. Joyce Overholser Boles says:

    Abraham Overholt was a distant cousin of mine, seven generations back. Our branch out here in Oregon spells it Overholser.

    Glad to hear his product is so well loved. Old Overholt may be the most distinguished piece of creativity to come from the tribe.

    Other than the Stealth F117A, that is. Denys Overholser was the man who discovered the trick for making planes invisible to radar.

    Denys is otherwise totally OK, and probably does not drink whiskey. Most of the tribe does not.

    Tis a pity, for maybe we would all be more creative if we did.

  41. Bud Tompkins says:

    I grew up in Western PA and knew some Overholts… but alas, America and especially Southwestern Pennsylvania, forgets and neglects its history (unless it has something to do with the Steelers). I regret to say that here in the birthplace of fine American whiskeys – the home of the Whiskey Rebellion – Pennsylvania’s State Store monopoly has phased out Old Overholt in favor of Jim Beam and Wild Turkey ryes. Now you have to drive to West Virginia to get a good Manhattan… Imagine that !!! I spoke to a friend who is an executive for the LCB about this, and being a good bureaucrat, he gave me an answer that promptly put me to sleep. I’m still not sure what he said…
    Next thing you know, they’ll start brewing Rolling Rock in St Louis… oh wait…

  42. mizterZ says:

    Drink it straight, you yella livered polecats! The way the boys used to in the West..

  43. cee dubbles says:

    Nothing like rye whiskey. Rye is what makes Knob Creek worth dringking. My other go to is Wild Turkey 101 proof Rye with the green label. Killing a cold right now with lemon clove honey and boiling water, topped with a healthy dose of OO.

  44. Perry says:

    The rumor on the interwebs is that pre-prohibition rye whiskey was bottled under various names and sold clear up until the early 1980’s… Rye didn’t get no respect. So that bottle of Old Overholt from the 1940’s or 50’s may very well be pre-prohibition stuff. My first bottle? Purchased in Santa Fe in 1986. I remember buying a bottle of OO and one of Wild Turkey Rye. Each had it’s own merit. The Wild Turkey was smooth, but the OO had character that the Turkey lacked.

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