Ep. 108 - Bringing Monongahela Rye Back to Somerset County, PA

MAXIMILIAN MERRILL / Founder of Ponfeigh Distillery

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Show Notes

Maximilian Merrill, founder of Ponfeigh Distillery in Somerset County, Western Pennsylvania, discusses the rich whiskey history of the region and his inspiration for starting the distillery. The name Ponfeigh is derived from the Welsh heritage of the area and the fertile valley where the distillery is located. Somerset County played a significant role in the Whiskey Rebellion and was a major producer of rye whiskey before Prohibition. Maximilian aims to revive the whiskey heritage of the county and educate people about its history through a whiskey museum. The distillery currently offers tours and tastings, and plans to release a range of rye whiskeys, rum, and gin.

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Drew Hannush (00:00.414)
Welcome to Whiskey Lord, the interviews. I'm your host, Drew Hanisch, the bestselling author of Experiencing Kentucky Bourbon, Experiencing Irish Whiskey and the author of the new historical epic, The Lost History of Tennessee Whiskey. And today we are headed to an area that is rich with early American whiskey history. We're gonna learn about a new distillery that's coming online that was inspired by some of that historic tradition of distilling. My guest is Maximilian Merrill and his distillery is

which is located in Somerset County, Western Pennsylvania. Max Millian, welcome to the show.

Maximilian (00:37.486)
Thank you for having me, I appreciate it.

Drew Hannush (00:40.31)
Well, this is the, I just saw the other day as I was on Instagram and I see this logo and Pond Fae and it's written in that historic script. And I, it just immediately draws my curiosity, which probably was part of your plan in using that particular script was to take people back to a time period and a, and kind of a, a feeling. Let's talk about that name Pond Fae and where it comes from.

Maximilian (01:09.89)
Well, it's rich in my family's history and also rich in the county's history because when my great great, two greats, my great grandfather and great grandfather went to start a dairy farm back in 1940, they came over this fertile valley.

with a barn that they repurposed from what is now called the Quemahoming Dam, and it's where actually we get our water from at the distillery. And when they came over to that fertile valley, one of the gentlemen that was working with them in the mines at that point, but then was helping them construct that barn, screamed

Maximilian (01:59.058)
my great grandfather and great grandfather thought that meant wonderful, amazing, beautiful, fertile valley, whatever, you know, they didn't speak Welsh at the time. He was a Welsh immigrant.

And as you know, a lot of Welsh immigrants came for the boom of the mining industry. And for 80 some years, we thought that's what it meant. And then the internet came out and my aunts did some research and they realized Mr. McDowell was from Ponfé, Wales. And when he came over into that fertile valley, his heart just burst open because it reminded him of his homeland. And he

Maximilian (02:40.3)
of our farm. It's been the moniker of the dairy business. It's been the moniker of a few other businesses my great grandfather started afterwards. So, Ponfay is known in our county for many years and that sort of font as you see is a nod to the Welsh history that Mr. McDowell came from. And then of course you see the Rye Infinity Loop because we believe

to be a not only a brand but a feeling and a culture forever.

Drew Hannush (03:18.466)
So have you been to Wales before?

Maximilian (03:21.966)
I have not and I need to shortly go there to Ponfé Wales. I've had a few individuals contact me wanting some Ponfé whiskey.

Drew Hannush (03:34.362)
It's interesting because as I was doing my research on Evan Shelby and how he went down to Tennessee and you see this Welsh connection that there were so many distillers that we didn't really even know were coming through from Wales. And then you start wondering what was attracting them to these particular areas. And it's really interesting that you made that connection that maybe it felt like home.

Maximilian (04:02.782)
Absolutely. You know, we had, as you know, Wales had a huge mining industry at the time. And I think sort of when our mining industry was booming in Somerset County, the way the Welsh industry was sort of going downhill. And that's why there was a ton of immigration. At that point, I think there was a actual, you know,

companies were reaching out to Wales to bring people across the pond, if you will.

Drew Hannush (04:36.426)
Yeah. We'll talk about Somerset County. I have not been there before. I've been close. I drove north of there, but I did not quite get down to Somerset County. Of course, when I was doing my research into the whiskey rebellion, that area figured within that a bit, but kind of describe Somerset County for those that haven't been there in a little bit of its history in terms of whiskey.

Maximilian (05:00.458)
Oh, in terms of whiskey, I mean, the whiskey rebellion started in Somerset County, as you know, with the folks of like Herman husband and Robert Wilson, the two individuals that were actually arrested by the army of George Washington, which I'm related to one of them. Mr. Robert Wilson, he's my great grand uncle. And, you know, they were, you know, Somerset County because of our soil types.

could really grow was rye. And about every fifth farmer in this county had a still. And at the end of the year, these farmers would get together and bring their bushels of rye together and they would distill you know, this is colonial and then during the Revolutionary War and after

they would use that distillate that was Rye Shine, which most people know, or Rye White Dog. And that distillate was used as barter for the next spring to purchase supplies.

Drew Hannush (06:04.555)

Maximilian (06:04.666)
So, you know, the whiskey rebellion sort of happened because when the tax man came to get the tax on their still, they weren't being taxed on what they made. And they were being taxed on what they could make 365 days out of the year. But not only that, the folks in the in the western part of the state, we didn't have any money, you know, there wasn't any ability to pay a tax that was used for their survival that was used for their barter.

spring every year. They couldn't store the grain as you know like we can these days. So I mean that's sort of what was created the uprising from Berlin and then it just flowed east into Pittsburgh. I mean excuse me west.

Drew Hannush (06:50.934)
Yeah. And it's one of those bits of lore that has permeated whiskey history, that these were all tax dodgers, that they were angry that they had to pay a tax. But once you start to learn about that early era where whiskey was currency and that was what you bartered with the mercantile. That's what you bartered with. You took it to taverns and

Maximilian (07:11.64)

Drew Hannush (07:20.918)
taverns would be able to sell it there or to trade it there, that sort of thing, and be able to bring money in. A little bit of coinage that they had, it's just they didn't, none of them really had coinage. They didn't see a need to have coinage as long as they could continue to barter with their whiskey.

Maximilian (07:21.102)

Maximilian (07:43.122)
Absolutely. I mean, it was it was literally a tax on their way of life, on their existence. And, you know, you get put in a corner like that, where, you know, people are, you know, trying to shut you your whole way of life that you've been doing for eons. I don't think it was unreasonable to differentiate a tax between commercial producers and folks using it for home,


Drew Hannush (08:14.558)
Yeah. What's interesting is that tax went away in 1801 and it seems that American whiskey writers from that point on kind of forget Pennsylvania. I mean, they talk about the industrial part that happened after 1860, but they don't necessarily dig into that time period from 1801 to the civil war and what was actually, uh, where

Did all those farmers go and what were those farmers doing? There's the assumption that they went to Kentucky, which of course if they'd gone to Kentucky, they'd have had to pay the tax there too up until 1801. So there was really no purpose for them to do that. But what happens with Somerset County in the years following the Whiskey Rebellion up to, did it industrialize there? Was that a center of distilling for a while?

Maximilian (09:07.858)
Absolutely, you know those small pot stills grew larger and larger and you know through the ages we eventually we have record in 1893 and in the distiller we have each one of the insurance maps of the 14 major distilleries that we had in Somerset County. Thanks to our mutual friend Laura she has documented each one of those distilleries and that was

in Somerset County producing a ton of whiskey. You know, we have posters that were drawn by an insurance salesman looking to ensure those distilleries as a business. And they're well documented, even the small town of Glencoe, the smallest barrel barn of those 14 distilleries had 350 barrels in it. In the little, little town of Glencoe,

Drew Hannush (10:05.227)

Maximilian (10:07.832)
if you're from Somerset County, you're like, what? This had a major industry? And most of those distilleries facilitated brands out east. So if you look at the maps that we have on the wall here inside our distillery and our growing whiskey museum, you see that they're all located near a train depot, which makes complete sense.

The purveyors of whiskey in Baltimore, DC, as far as Charleston and Boston would come into Western Pennsylvania. Cambria County, Bedford County, Westmoreland County also had some distilleries, but Somerset County had 14. And they would come on a train, sample these whiskey barrels and take them down east and put them into their bottles

and brands and, you know, obviously highlighting pure, pure Pennsylvania rye or Menage Healer rye and, you know, brag about where they got those barrels from. But, you know, our records are very sort of loose. We don't know how many brands that all our whiskey went into, but they purchased a lot of whiskey from us. And, you know, after the sort of the fall of rum in the, in the United States and the what?

the rum distilleries, Minagahala Rai really filled that void in the taverns out east.

Drew Hannush (11:37.766)
It was interesting in researching the Tennessee book that the first mention I could find nationally of monogahela rye in a newspaper was in Franklin, Tennessee, and someone was touting that they had monogahela rye there. And of course, it just built out from there. That was really probably the first regional distinction for a whiskey that I could find, which just spoke to

the quality of it and the fact that people would take that and define it when they weren't really defining anything else. They say, oh, we're selling whiskey and it would just be whiskey. Nobody was really pushing what style of whiskey it was. And so the Ohio River and Menaga-Hila River were probably a big boon to the expansion of that reputation.

Maximilian (12:36.462)
Correct, I mean, we had a few of our local brands that were pretty popular, but, and actually one of the oldest whiskeys ever sold on auction is from Somerset County, the Baker brand. Our friend Laura pointed that out to me the other day. It's quite impressive and kind of sad too, that most people don't realize

Maximilian (13:08.382)
important Somerset County was to the American whiskey heritage in that

one of the major booms, if not one of the major birthplaces of American whiskey happened here. And what I mean, people don't know, I mean, people in Somerset County don't know. That's, we lost all that heritage. When I point out these different maps and locations, they're like, I live right near there. There was a major distillery and then they could see a barrel barn with, you know, 2000 barrels in it. They're like, oh my gosh, you know. So, you know, that is one of

Drew Hannush (13:25.262)

Maximilian (13:44.46)
missions here at Pond Faye is not only to bring back the nostalgia of Menongahela Rai, but to really open people's eyes on how much whiskey heritage we lost.

Drew Hannush (13:57.29)
I wonder if you could trace, because as I went in and researched New Hope, Kentucky, here's a little community out in the middle of nowhere that was a whiskey center, that they had 10 to 11 distilleries at one point, and they were all on the railroad line. And you wonder how the move away from once the automobile and the ability to transport other ways.

really kind of made these smaller communities obsolete in terms of being whiskey centers. You know, most of that would have happened after Prohibition. I don't remember when Pennsylvania actually went into Prohibition. They went in with the rest of the country, I believe, didn't they? They didn't go in early. Okay.

Maximilian (14:42.638)
Yes, yes. And a lot of our, yes, absolutely. I mean, that's when, you know, you can, I mean, obviously the great depression, you know, probably, you know, extinguish some of those distilleries. And, but yeah, the prohibition was sort of the final nail in the coffin for all of these different distilleries. And

Um, only one that we know of survived prohibition. That was the France, the celery south of Berlin, which is just literally a stone's throw from the pond, Fay, uh, farm. And, you know, it's, it's survived by making other products for, you know, efforts like the war effort and stuff like that, but, um,

Yeah, I mean, it's there was so much whiskey production here that it just sort of blows people's mind that, you know, all these different brands and wholesalers were in the county and.

I have found a couple different mash bills that we look forward to making in the future, but most of them were very high rye content, 95 almost to 100, if you will. Currently we're doing a 95.5 that is probably the predominant spirit around here, but they threw in everything they possibly could find and this was before the advent of fertilizers and potash

soil audited. So this rock that we call Somerset County, right, was really the only thing they could grow but for some buckwheat and you know some wheat and a little bit of barley.

Drew Hannush (16:21.578)
how interesting it would be to be able to have a sample of that. We talked about earlier before we started recording about traveling to Ireland and both of us had opportunities separately to taste some older spirits, but these pre-prohibition spirits and the idea that they were distilling on pot stills and what that character would have been.

Drew Hannush (16:51.218)
still there are still worm tubs being used in Scotland, but I have not really seen many worm tubs in the United States, if any, and the body and character that adds to a particular whiskey. And to think that Three Chamber stills, all these different things that they were doing in Western Pennsylvania that really have just been lost to time.

Maximilian (17:13.854)
Yeah, we have some documentation in Somerset County of some three chamber, but also two chamber stills. But yes, most of them were mostly fire pot stills.

And I think there was one mention of a column still, but I think that was more Westmoreland County. But, you know, there is a, I would love to taste some of those old spirits, but you know, I'm sure Laura has tasted a few of them, but I look at them on auction, just like that Baker's bottle that was from.

Drew Hannush (17:44.214)
Good luck.

Maximilian (17:53.89)
Oh boy, I forget what year that was from. I'm gonna say 18 something, but I can't afford that. So somebody can tell me. But the question also too is, what were all those different strains that they were using of rye?

Drew Hannush (17:58.285)

Drew Hannush (18:04.143)

Drew Hannush (18:13.922)

Maximilian (18:13.966)
And you know, whether you know we talk a lot of people talk about the Rosen rye and how that made a different flavor profile. I do believe that some of the heritage rise probably made a different profile. But I really think that this soil characteristics of Somerset County is what drove the quality and we're noticing that right now. Doing our distillation and even when we worked with

tractor trailer loads of rye down there. We just noticed there is a sweeter characteristics in this rye dog, excuse me, rye shine white dog that I've ever experienced in any rye spirit.

Drew Hannush (19:00.238)
That's really interesting that you bring that up. Again, that's something that I experienced when I was in Ireland, the fact that you have a distillery like Waterford that is actually trying to find out how barley is different in different places across Ireland and they're distilling all of these things separately so that you can taste the difference and what a profile they have developed in terms of different flavor ranges from whether it's near the coast or...

in the mountains depending on the climate of a particular area. To me, Rye has that same ability to have so many different types of personalities just like barley can have. It's like an open book. Wherever it's being planted, there you're going to get a different experience such as I've had

Maximilian (19:57.974)

Drew Hannush (19:59.006)
here. So yeah. Um, what was your background really? Uh, how, how have you come about learning all of this about, uh, about rye whiskey and, um, and what got you interested in starting a distillery?

Maximilian (20:14.306)
How long is this interview?

Drew Hannush (20:16.226)
Ha ha ha.

Maximilian (20:19.761)
You know, I grew up, so on the edge of the pond, so what pond fae means in Welsh is stag's watering place.

which is obviously the stags of whales, and I guess that's why it was named that back in the day. But why that is a sort of a fun meeting, a double meeting for us at the Ponfe Farms is on the edge of the Ponfe Farm is an old hunting camp that was built, we think in the early 30s, could be as old as the 20s, but that's where my whole family has been hiding basically to enjoy their libations. This was the right after the temperance movement,

and having many different businesses and employing most of the towns, they had to just go into their cabin to enjoy their rye libations. And as a child, I just grew up in the whiskey culture and finding those old bottles in the rafters or the outhouse, I learned a little bit about whiskey and the different brands

the different, you know, regions that it was made. And I didn't realize until recently when I branched out and started going to distilleries all over the world, that we were in the birthplace of American whiskey. Unfortunately, those old bottles I shot with my 22 when I was a kid and now I'm like, oh my God, what did I do? I mean, we were talking, I mean, could you imagine if I had half of those?

Drew Hannush (21:49.802)
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Maximilian (21:56.594)
Um, you know, I was just a kid. So, um, I think my dad once had a Honus Wagner card too, and a Hank Aaron. So, oh well. Um, but you know, we all, that's a rite of passage, but anyway. Oh, it would, yeah, that's exactly what he did. That's exactly what.

Drew Hannush (22:07.534)
as long as he wasn't putting his bike's bicycle spokes.

Maximilian (22:14.37)
Anyway, growing up in that whiskey culture and then learning about spirits all over the world and you know just loving it, I in realizing my home was you know one of the major epicenters of American whiskey, I just knew we had to do something here.

And I knew for me, it was about having the whiskey museum even before the distillery. But you know, a distillery can help procure the museum, right? So, and you have to have a spirit to showcase what Somerset County was. So...

Drew Hannush (22:47.852)

Maximilian (22:55.366)
I had put pen to paper for about 20 years and I was a lobbyist in D.C. for agricultural interests for about...

10 to 12 years and after the last farm bill, when a lot of my amendments got rejected, I said, this is my time. So I sold everything in DC, finished my business plan, took it to a few banks and then COVID hit, I lost a few bank loans and then after COVID came out, I have a very wonderful group of individuals at First Commonwealth who said, we need to reinvigorate this whiskey,

this whiskey heritage in Somerset County. And now we're fully operational and we finished our tasting room in a couple months and we'll have our grand opening. But right now people can come in for just tours and tasting. And the community has welcomed us with open arms.

Drew Hannush (23:55.282)
How did you end up bumping into Southern Distilling for your initial distillate?

Maximilian (24:02.254)
going to conferences and you know learning from you know people who could help me learn the equipment and

I bumped into Pete Barger, I think at a discus conference, and I knew he was doing contracting. And I told him, you know, I talked to him about what I wanted to do. I wanted to use our grain, you know, and most contracts, the distilling won't do that. And he was very flexible, and his whole staff trained me on that equipment. And I was down there making sure that, you know,

and the proof that I wanted to pull off the still. And immediately when we started distilling, we both realized we had something special here.

Drew Hannush (24:53.134)
there's some really good distillate that comes out of there. And, uh, and so that was kind of my curiosity because it's North Carolina. It's not exactly around the, uh, around the corner, but it is the original, well, not the original home of Herman husband, but he came through there, uh, at, at one point. So it was an interesting tie. And part of me was wondering whether it was a historical tie.

Maximilian (25:16.586)
Well, it is a historical tie and nothing happens by accident as I realize the older I get and my faith gets deeper. So and I also I actually went to NC State University. So that sort of pulled me there as well.

Drew Hannush (25:31.546)
Okay, okay. So talk about now what is the journey to actually finding a place to set this distillery up and going through that process.

Maximilian (25:43.35)
Whoo. Yeah.

Maximilian (25:51.31)
I looked at a bunch of different sites for about three years and had a lot of heartbreak over them. I looked at some brownfields. I looked at the old France distillery that is still standing in ruins. The rack barn is still there, you know, semi intact.

Drew Hannush (26:09.83)

Maximilian (26:11.362)
I couldn't get the owners of that facility to sort of budge and it just didn't work out economically because of a lot of different tax issues. I looked at an old historic beautiful hotel in the county that has since been torn down. It was a sort of a Victorian giant four story hotel that we were going to cut out and then after I did an analysis with my architect.

Drew Hannush (26:20.896)

Maximilian (26:41.356)
before we even started to make it for a distillery. And I eventually came upon through some friends, this warehouse site known as the old 84 lumber that is literally on 219, a new four lane highway and very close to the turnpike that is also sort of a development zone.

Drew Hannush (26:44.194)

Maximilian (27:11.457)
lovely owner of it gave us a deal on it and I jumped on it.

Drew Hannush (27:16.598)
Very nice. And now the next thing you have to do is you have to either figure out whether you're distilling or you're going to hire a distiller. How did you go about that, that process?

Maximilian (27:26.346)
Well, you know, I knew that, you know, there were multi-facets of a business and I knew.

distilling and marketing and promotion and you know all these different things I knew I would have to quickly get some help to someone to take over the production side of things so I worked you know tirelessly calling around to different distilleries and going to conferences and eventually one of my mentors Jim Huff from Liberty Pole Spirits connected me with

and he was working with Wiggle Whiskey and was looking to, you know...

get into a larger scale and he quickly came on board and he's producing some great distillate right now and you know we've laid down our first 50 barrels already and um yeah it's great and we have a great partnership and he is really good at his craft and he's worked for multiple distilleries so it was easy for him to fit in and take the reins.

Drew Hannush (28:42.914)
But he's from around the area, as I understand.

Maximilian (28:46.206)
He is. He's from Pittsburgh.

Drew Hannush (28:48.282)
Okay, okay. Um, so talk about, uh, cause you had mentioned that you had kind of done some research into some old mash bills. Were they connected to specific distilleries or, uh, were these just kind of handed handwritten recipes that, uh, you just happened upon.

Maximilian (29:10.434)
both. They all, and remember everything back there was handwritten, so we have, so we have some of the recipes from different distilleries that are handwritten. A lot of these recipe and recipe books and records.

Drew Hannush (29:11.574)
Both, okay?

Drew Hannush (29:15.938)
Well, that's true. That's true.

Maximilian (29:28.35)
are still in private hands. I'm working with the Historical Society and what a wonderful group called the Laurel Highlands Bottle Society that collects all this information to get my hands on these different recipes. But again, most of them were just very, very high rye content, you know, 95.5.

and you know some of them obviously put some wheat in different variations of barley in there but we hope to eventually you know get our hands on when we gain the trust of the community. They're very you know those folks are very you know protective of their family's history and you know I don't.

I don't judge them for that, I would too. But again, most of that was just very, very large rye content. And then, like we said before, I really think it was where the rye was grown more than what the recipe was.

Drew Hannush (30:35.734)
Did they use any terminology in those recipes like sweet mash or sour mash to kind of give you an idea of their distilling process for those?

Maximilian (30:45.41)
Probably, I haven't gone back into some of that research. I've sort of taken a backseat, but I'm sure they did some sour mashes.

Drew Hannush (30:56.382)
Yeah, it's interesting because our modern day definitions of those are not quite the same as the definitions that I was finding when I was going back into 19th century research. And so it's interesting to see. And because I haven't really spent a lot of time digging into Pennsylvania's actual way of distilling, it would be interesting to note whether those, that terminology also came across.

uh, in Pennsylvania as, as well. Um, so with your decision on how you're going to proceed in those 50 to 50 barrels that you've set down, what is kind of your goal in terms of, um, the range of whiskeys that you want to create when you first get them out on the market?

Maximilian (31:48.774)
Well, I mean, our West Sylvania Rye is our 95.5, so, you know, I was fortunate to lay down 200 barrels with Pete and, you know, we because of sales have been so good and it's a wonderful spirit. And in a year and a half, it'll be a five year old, so it'll be even better.

Drew Hannush (32:06.807)

Maximilian (32:08.398)
We are currently in production to keep those stocks. We're three years behind because construction took us so long. That's what we're currently focusing on right now. We will quickly pivot to a Maryland style rye, which obviously has a larger corn content. Actually, not larger, some corn content, because we don't have any in the 95.5. Because that was historically

Drew Hannush (32:32.705)

Maximilian (32:38.952)
a very fun and spirit that was all over as you know, and our cousins just over the Mason Dixon line, they call it, produced a lot of that. Maryland could grow a lot of corn in the Eastern counties could grow corn. So some of that Maryland rye was predominant before prohibition too. So we wanna give a nod to our Southern friends as well.

you know, make some other types of whiskey. We'll be doing a rye aged rum as well and a rye aged gin to make sure we have a multitude of different spirits for when people come to visit our distillery. Not everybody is a whiskey fan, but you know, they're usually some spirit fan. And that is also a way to give a nod to our rye heritage, but also have some fun with some other spirits.

And then, you know, go ahead.

Drew Hannush (33:39.579)
Have you seen, well, I was gonna say, have you seen anybody doing a rye finished rum? That sounds very unique to me.

Maximilian (33:49.547)
I have not.

Drew Hannush (33:50.794)
Okay, yeah. And it's interesting because it kind of mixes the early colonial heritage of making rum along with the tradition of Western Pennsylvania rye. I'm catching what you're throwing down. Ha ha ha.

Maximilian (34:00.726)
You got it. You got it. You're thinking. Yeah. Yeah, it is definitely a nod to how Monongahela Rai sort of took over the Eastern Sea board by storm because of the rum trades sort of just stopped as it stopped because the molasses trade stopped. And remember there before Monongahela Rai was the predominant spirit up until prohibition.

molasses there are rum distilleries all up and down the eastern seaboard.

Drew Hannush (34:35.85)
Yeah. Well then, um, and it was good in bartering as well because it was a popular spirit, so it was much better for you to make rum than it was to make whiskey because you could get more trade value out of it.

Maximilian (34:48.106)
And it was easier.

Drew Hannush (34:49.726)
Yeah. Well, except for the ones that were making it a sugar maple, uh, sugar maple trees down in Tennessee. Yet then you had to convert and do all that fun stuff.

Maximilian (35:01.906)
I have looked into that math. Wow. Now, you know, Somerset County is one of the largest producers of maple syrup in the country. I can't give you the exact numbers, but I'm sure our Chamber of Commerce can. A lot of our maple syrup gets shipped to Vermont and is labeled Vermont maple syrup.

Drew Hannush (35:05.47)

Drew Hannush (35:30.287)
Nice. They need truth in advertising on their, uh, on their bottles product of, which we go through with whiskey.

Maximilian (35:38.482)
They mix it in. You know who's I mean, does everybody on this podcast know that, you know, a majority of the spirits on the shelves are MGP? No, no, they don't. They don't. And, you know, that's what that's what, you know, is fun for us and is fun for all the craft distillers out there. The more we educate people.

Drew Hannush (35:48.67)
Yeah, there you go. Yeah, yeah. So let's.

Maximilian (36:03.164)
that you know there are there are brands and then there are distilleries.

Drew Hannush (36:08.146)
Yeah, yeah. It's a really interesting time to see the growth and explosion of distilleries and many of them doing that sourcing and having to move at some point from selling the distillate that's coming from these larger distilleries to then transitioning to their own liquid and the idea being, you know,

how different is it going to be through that process? Was that something that you thought about during your kind of planning out about how you were going to brand and what you were going to do with the spirit?

Maximilian (36:46.854)
I never wanted to source. I knew that a new distillery would have a cashflow problem and I understand why everybody does it. It's a no brainer. But when we made those 200 barrels,

I originally thought that we would not have something to sell for the first couple years, but for maybe a white dog. I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to sell a dog.

Drew Hannush (37:17.571)

Maximilian (37:17.794)
I looked into what could we do as far as a cash flow. And we actually looked into sourcing from small distilleries, even with Pete at Southern Distilling. We had different models set up, depending on where we were in construction. Fortunately, unfortunately, our construction took longer because of supply chain issues and some engineering issues that we had,

So our construction took three years. And it actually is still going on. Our tasting room hopefully will be finished by the late spring, early summer. So we now have a spirit that we made with Southern Distilling from rye from Pennsylvania that we drove down there that is a wonderful spirit. So like I said, just have faith. The good Lord looks after you in one way or the other. And we opened with West Sylvania rye and did not have to source anything.

Drew Hannush (37:50.848)

Drew Hannush (38:11.276)

Maximilian (38:17.508)
is gone gangbusters. We sold 2000, almost 2000 bottles in December alone. Dry January, however, is a real thing. Our doors are not opening at all, but everybody in this tree is, you know, feeling those pains. But anyway, yeah, so now we didn't have to go that course. I understand

Maximilian (38:47.448)
able to transition from a flavor profile from a source spirit to our spirit and not make complete changes as for the consumer and now we're using the same rye the same equipment we're putting in the same proof and we're using the same barrels from Great Barrel West Virginia Company and I am completely

Maximilian (39:14.862)
confident that West Sylvania rye will be here to stay in the same flavor profile that everybody's enjoying today.

Drew Hannush (39:22.722)
Very nice. One of the advantages I think to rye distillate is that it doesn't need the barrel as much as a corn whiskey needs a barrel. And so you can go a little bit younger on it and you get a lot of that original distillate. You just kind of work off the rough edges on it through the first couple of years. And so that kind of helps you get some stuff to market probably a bit faster than say a.

bourbon distillery that may want to go the full four years or more to, uh, to, to get rid of some of those rough edges. Although a good distiller can figure out how to get rid of those rough edges in, in other ways as well. So, but I thought it was really interesting that you were, that you chose to use a or build a climate controlled warehouse. Is that to just slightly temper the, um,

temperature swings with the whiskey that you're working on? Will it be just for a certain style of whiskey that you're creating or what was the thought process behind that?

Maximilian (40:29.046)
Well, we'll have climate controlled and on climate controlled whiskey. We're probably in about a year, we'll build our warehouse outside. And, you know, the old distilleries like Old Overhold and Sam Thompson, you know, had climate controlled distilleries in Pennsylvania.

and they believe that it made a more consistent, smoother whiskey than the swings, if you will, that are non-climate controlled. So we'll be doing both of those aging processes, actually.

Drew Hannush (41:05.538)
Very nice. And I've heard you talk about a museum. So is this kind of an in progress thing? Um, and how big is this museum going to be? Uh, is it something that you're going to see as you're kind of walking through on a tour or something that's a stand there and enjoy it kind of thing.

Maximilian (41:23.97)
Both. So like I said, we have all the different distillery maps from Somerset County portrayed along the walls of the production facility, which will eventually transition into our tasting room. So if you're, you know, walking about in the tasting room, you can, you can watch, excuse me, look at each one of those distilleries and there's will, there will be a little

Drew Hannush (41:25.249)

Maximilian (41:52.81)
description of where they were and what they were making and the history behind each one of those distilleries. Once Laura produces, publishes her book, and then I can get a nod from her to use that information and then also sell her book in our retail store. We look forward to that. And also we have for phase three, we have a full museum of Somerset County Whiskey Heritage design.

Drew Hannush (42:02.818)

Drew Hannush (42:10.69)
There you go.

Maximilian (42:22.624)
like you said exactly, will be the initial.

starting point that you'll go through on a tour of when you do that when you tour the facility and that will go through colonial whiskey production to pre-prohibition whiskey production like you said the industrial industrialization of whiskey production and then that'll talk about prohibition and then what and then now the modern era of folks you know distilleries popping up in

Drew Hannush (42:57.442)
So for somebody that has not been to Pennsylvania to do distillery tours yet, which I kick myself for that, but I will get there sooner or later, I understand there's something called the Laurel Highlands Poor Tour. What is that all about?

Maximilian (43:13.11)
That is an amazing compilation and tourism push of...

the Laurel Highlands Tourism Agency that put together a wonderful book of all the distilleries and all of the breweries in the Laurel Highlands for folks from Baltimore, DC, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati. And they have this book and it is a roadmap to all of the different, like I said, wineries, breweries, distilleries in our area. And it's a wonderful program.

about it. I get excited about it because I learn about new distilleries and breweries that pop up everywhere. So people go around, they collect little stickers, and they get, you know, awards at the end of the year. And it is a fantastic tourism initiative that has helped all of us, you know, with bringing our

brands to the forefront of people looking to have new experiences.

Drew Hannush (44:24.266)
Yeah, because when you think about Kentucky and you have a bourbon trail and Tennessee's got a bourbon trail, and then these are great ways for you to discover distilleries. And so what has Pennsylvania's way been for you to discover the distilleries that are out there?

Maximilian (44:41.994)
Yeah, there's the Whiskey Rebellion trail as well, but for some reason I believe the Laurel Highlands Portour has really just taken off.

Drew Hannush (44:53.15)
Okay, very good. And so you say you're open right now for people to come in to do tastings at this point. Is that correct?

Maximilian (45:00.834)
Tastings and tours correct and obviously bought and obviously bottle sales

Drew Hannush (45:03.123)
And tours, okay.

Yeah, are we calling this the hard hat tour or is this, is it polished enough that it is the, you're seeing what it's gonna be.

Maximilian (45:17.15)
It's the hard hat tour. We are currently, I mean, the fancy tasting room is not completed, so when people come in, they are quickly, you know, enter the production facility.

Drew Hannush (45:18.823)
Okay, very nice.

Drew Hannush (45:32.146)
And, um, best way to get there from, uh, say, uh, Pittsburgh, or if you're coming from, uh, Philly, you're going to take the turnpike.

Maximilian (45:42.058)
right off the turnpike. Somerset exit, yep. We're literally one mile from the turnpike. It's very easy in and out. We have 10 different hotels and 10 different restaurants that are all pushing for us to bring people off that turnpike. And we look to be a multiplier for the rest of the community.

Drew Hannush (45:43.918)
Okay, very nice.

Drew Hannush (46:10.926)
Very nice. When are they going to get that turnpike paid for? So we can just drive across it.

Maximilian (46:18.038)
You don't know about all that? We'll talk about that online. That's never gonna be paid for.

Drew Hannush (46:23.139)
Alright, very good.

Maximilian (46:24.698)
Yeah, there's in their charter, they only have to stop the tolls when they're done construction.

Drew Hannush (46:34.198)
Okay. Uh, very nice. I got it. Uh, I see how this works. Actually. It's funny. Actually, it's funny because when I drive across what used to be the old turnpikes in Kentucky, they're all free. Now you can drive across any of them. And I said, this is remarkable. I mean, the idea that they've, they've actually said we're done and they've opened them up for people to, uh, to actually use, uh, the fun of government. Um,

Maximilian (46:36.51)
Got it? Got it. Mm-hmm.

Drew Hannush (47:03.434)
Well, thank you so much for being on the podcast and tell us a little bit about how people can keep up with your progress.

Maximilian (47:11.614)
Yeah, absolutely. Well, first of all, before I forget, Drew, thank you for having me on. This has been a lot of fun. And your wealth of knowledge is obvious. So, you know, as we move through the future, you know, please feel free to reach out and you know, if you're ever in this area, you know, stop by and we'll give you a tour.

Drew Hannush (47:33.067)

Maximilian (47:33.638)
Yeah, people can follow us at ponfadistillery.com and also through Instagram and Facebook. We update on a daily basis what's going on here and obviously we update the website as well.

Drew Hannush (47:49.422)
Very good. Well, I wish you best of luck and good luck and thank you for promoting Manal Gehla and Maryland Rye because I think they are categories that are descriptors that need to come back into our vernacular alongside of Kentucky bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, American single malt and the rest.

Maximilian (48:09.386)
Yes, we actually will have a Menongahela Rai website coming online in the next couple months to educate people about that history. So, get ready for that to go live as well.

Drew Hannush (48:23.458)
Fantastic. Well, thank you so much. Cheers.

Maximilian (48:26.914)
Cheers, thank you very much.

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