Whatever happened to rye, anyway ?

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Its cache has been on the rise for more than a year now, boosted, among other things, by notice from trendsetting publications, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Esquire magazine.

You meanwhile may have been under the impression that Western Pennsylvania's rye distillers floated down the Ohio River following the 1790s Whiskey Rebellion, giving rise to Kentucky's corn bourbon tradition.

Here's the problem with that story: Most booze historians say it's not exactly true.

For decades after the rebellion, well into the 1800s, whiskey production here boomed, and we began making such a splendid variety of the stuff that they named it after the river that gave it life: Monongahela rye.

In 1810, while Kentucky produced 2.2 million gallons of primarily corn bourbon, Pennsylvania shipped 6.5 million gallons of distilled spirits, mostly Monongahela rye.

Old Overholt was born in Westmoreland County. The old Israel Shreve distillery still stands in Perryopolis, on a property once owned by George Washington; the original Michter's distillery was built in Pennsylvania Amish country and operated until 20 years ago.

It all would make for a nice little history trail, wouldn't it?

John Lipman and his wife, Linda -- Pennsylvania natives now living in Ohio -- have trekked this trail, giving themselves a self-guided tour of the state's old distilleries.

"Whiskey history and United States history are so intertwined," he said. From the early slave trade to the Whiskey Rebellion to Prohibition, whiskey was there, playing a role.

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