Old Overholt Rye Whiskey Review


By S.D. Peters

Rating: C

Old Overholt

Old Overholt
(Credit: Jim Beam)

As recently as 1995, there were only four American Rye whiskies on the market.  One of them, easily the most recognizable of the four, was Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey.

The brand’s history is longer in years than most American states, and at times, storied.  Abraham Overholt (the face of Old Overholt today) began distilling his Rye whiskey in 1810, and by 1812 had established a commercial distillery in West Overton, PA, where he produced Old Farm Pure Rye Whiskey.  In 1860, Jacob Overholt (Abe’s son) and his cousin Henry Overholt built a second distillery in nearby Broad Ford, and it was here that the first Rye whiskey bearing the Overholt brand was distilled.

The last in the line of Overholts to own the business was the industrialist Henry Clay Frick, Abe’s grandson and Jacob’s nephew.  When Frick died in 1919, his stake in the company passed to his friend Andrew Mellon.  When Mellon was appointed Secretary of the Treasury in the Prohibition-era administration of Warren Harding, one Union Trust Co. received Mellon’s stockpile – about two million gallons worth of Overholt Rye whiskey.

During Prohibition, Overholt Rye was sold as “medicinal” whiskey – legally by prescription, but also figuratively by speakeasies.  It didn’t take long for the press to report that not only did Union Trust Co. happen to manage the Prohibition officer-in-chief’s whiskey stock, but that said chief’s agents had authorized a third party to sell Mellon’s stock overseas.  The two million gallons eventually changed hands in 1925, at the cost of not a little (though now mostly forgotten) embarrassment to Mellon.

The Overholt brand, meanwhile, was purchased by the National Distillers Products Co., who owned it until 1987, when National Distillers was bought by Jim Beam Brands.  Since then, Overholt Rye has been an active Beam Brand, sold under the name Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey.

The original Overholt Distillery, though inactive, is now home to the West Overton Museum.  The Broad Ford distillery, abandoned for years, burned in 2004.

The Rye
Old Overholt is a Straight Rye Whiskey, aged four years and bottled at 80 proof (40% alcohol).  It isn’t fancy, but it doesn’t need to be: if you can only find one brand of American Rye on the shelf, it will be Old Overholt.  The plain brown bottle and its simple yellow label testify to this American Rye’s unassuming nature.  Although I’ve had no luck uncovering it’s exact mashbill, the nose, taste, and finish all suggest a higher rye content than the minimum 51%.

Old Overholt is special in that it’s the only Rye that still follows a traditional Monongahela (Pennsylvania) Whiskey recipe, and the four keystones connecting each band in the label’s frame of rye grain spikes pay tribute to it’s origination in the “Keystone State”.  It’s also one of the oldest consistent styles of whiskey in America.

Held up to the light, Old Overholt has the color of an ocean ebbing from a pebbly beach.  Comparisons to the appearance of saltwater aside, there’s nothing brackish about its nose.  A few dashes of white pepper impart the spiciness for which Rye is known.  Sprinkle it over a bouquet of ripening summer fruit, scented with trace of cracked vanilla beans, and you have a fairly standard Rye.  Step away, return, inhale again: similar notes return, but now… is that fruit specifically late summer apples, lingering in an afternoon meadow?

The first sip reveals a short burst of vanilla, prelude to the clove and white pepper that dominate.  The finish is a mellow caramel.  A second sip is similar, except now the spices mildly color the finish.  I find the body somewhat thin (though I’ve seen other tastings which disagree), but smooth – not unlike a Brut Cava.

These are all nice attributes in a whiskey, but for a Rye, they’re average.  The qualities that make Old Overholt special are, in the end, of historical importance.  Yet this is still a fine example of an average Rye, and it’s reputation as both a starter Rye, and a general around-the-house, go-to American Rye is well-earned.  Have it in a Sazerac, or let it stand-in for the Bourbon in any number of cocktails.  It mixes well above average.

The Price
Old Overholt is THE standard American Rye, and readily available.  I’ve found it for as low as $12.99 a bottle (750ml), but the price varies.  Don’t pay more than $19 – unless you absolutely, positively, can’t find it cheaper.  Old Overholt is, after all, what you might call a “table Rye,” so you shouldn’t go broke trying to put it on your table.

Share :


  1. Old Overholt is apparently off the market. Please explain.

  2. I have a unopen bottle of Old Overholt stright rye whiskey.still has the seal on it.seal number 701513568.can you tell me anything about this. thank you.

  3. New low price spotted in New Mexico of $11.99! Definitely a staple in our house.

  4. I have an Old Overholt bottle with a plain brown label stating that it is bottle # 383, stating that the whisky is 6 1/2 years old It is signed by Thomas F Brown Vice President and bottled at 121 proof at Broad Ford Pa. Also there is a plain brown label on the back of the bottle with the number 383 recorded. The whisky still tastes good and the bottle has a cork stopper instead of a cap Is it of any value other than a conversation piece. Let me know. Many Thanks CHUCK

    • Do you still have the Overholt Bottle? I would be interested in buying it, since I grew up near there.


  5. I have an unopened (with seal intact) bottle of Old Overholt straight rye whiskey. 5.60 is penciled on the front of the bottle and I assume this is the price. The # on the seal is 441881327. It is 86 proof and 4/5 quart. Does it have any value? Thanks for any information you can provide. Connie

  6. It sells for $11.65 in Montgomery County, Maryland.

  7. I have a bottle of old overholt still sealed. It has the words “Since 1810” on the front and a UPC on the back with the number 080686436409. I have a receipt that shows 12.99 I am assuming that’s the price. Can you tell me the value of this bottle?

  8. Hi,

    My grandfather has a bottle very similar to the from from @Chuck doughty on 12/17/13

    Our bottle #301 with seal 51-0327745 in the original wood box and all. Would love to get in contact with someone about this. Please let me know.

    • Do you still have this? I’m interested.

    • Dave, if this is the bottle I’m thinking of, it was a commemorative release for the officers of National Distillers. It was actually distilled at their sister distillery, the Large Distillery, downriver from the Overholt plant, which was founded in 1796 by pioneer distiller John Large.

      I’m also interested in acquiring it if you want to sell, as it’s from very near where I grew up. I can be reached at drinkyourwhiskey@gmail.com. Thank you!

  9. I have a sealed bottle of Old Overholt before the TTB required a Government Warning. I am interested in selling it.

  10. When did the “Overholt” brand stop being made and swithed to “Old Overholt”. Im a little confused while trying to sort thru some of the Oveholt history. thanks

  11. I think it was always Old Overholt but who knows. Like the hell out of the stuff. Of course I live out in the middle of the Sonoran Desert with one stoplight and one dive bar. Bless ’em they have Old Overholt, which I hadn’t seen in a ton of years, for $3 a shot poured with a heavy hand. Now they have keep one in stock in back as the bar supply seems to evaporate. Just a mystery how it evaporates.

    BTW this is the first article I’ve ever seen about collecting whiskey. Thank you.

  12. I have an empty pint? bottle with old cork. Label and cork poor condition overall, bottle fine. The number 17462632 is clear and 100 proof label is clear. A caution notice sticker on the back stating fine and imprisonment if reuse of the bottle for purpose of containment of distilled spirits. Any idea of age?

    • Kathleen G Kostuch

      I have a liter bottle Old Overholt straight rye whiskey (eighty-six proof) a43 % alcohol volume. How old is this whiskey?

  13. This is regularly on the shelf here in Florida.

    • It’s no longer in short supply, but there was a period some years ago where demand for rye to use in cocktails caught suppliers so off guard that even Old Overholt was sometimes not to be found.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *