Liberty Pole popping cork on growth plans

Rick Shrum

Following years of planning to raise their stakes, the owners of Mingo Creek Craft Distillers can raise a celebratory glass.

Mingo Creek, producers of Liberty Pole Spirits, will break ground Monday at the distillery campus it is constructing along Racetrack Road in North Strabane Township.

It will not be a stereotypical groundbreaking. Instead of shovels, the ceremony will feature the raising of a liberty pole – usually a wooden pole topped by “a cap of liberty,” which served as a symbol of protest during the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion. The media event will unfold at 9 a.m. at the two-acre construction site at 800 Adios Drive.

The complex will be adjacent to Street at the Meadows, a multi-use development near Hollywood Casino at the Meadows, and will do more than complement the company’s existing operation at 55 W. Maiden St., Washington.

“All of the operations will be moving out there,” said Jim Hough, co-founder of the distillery with his wife, Ellen, and their sons, Rob and Kevin.

Production of Liberty Pole Spirits, bourbon and Mingo Creek’s other whiskeys will shift to Racetrack Road, along with the aging and bottling processes.

That new campus will feature a colonial-themed tasting room and visitors center; a state-of-the-art production facility; and a rack house with 3,600-barrel capacity. Craft whiskey cocktails and small bites will be served there, along with tours and tastings, and there will be space for outdoor gatherings and food trucks.

For now, Mingo Creek will not be abandoning its West Maiden facility and the popular tasting room there. The Houghs (pronounced “huffs”) have a lease into 2025.

Jim said the new location “will initially nearly triple production capacity from the current location,” by adding a 1,000-gallon mash cooker, four 1,000-gallon fermenters and a 1,000-gallon pot still. Production initially is projected to result in 30,000 proof gallons, or 550 barrels per year, with output doubling over time.

Vendome Copper and Brass Works of Louisville, Ky., will supply the still, and Deutsche Beverage Technology of Charlotte, N.C., will provide the mash cooker, fermenters and process control systems.

The Houghs also are working with the Pittsburgh-based architectural firm Lab 8 Designs Inc. and general contractor BEAR-IC.

Mingo Creek Craft Distillers, of course, will be primary beneficiary of this project. But development of the campus will likely have far-ranging implications, said Jeff Kotula, president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Promotion Agency.

He said in a statement: “Liberty Pole Spirits (has) been transformational for Washington County on many levels. For our history, they have allowed us to fully understand the importance of the Whiskey Rebellion to our county and country. For our economy, they have created a product that is a source of pride when we market our area. And now for tourism, they will attract countless visitors to Washington County to visit their campus, taste their whiskeys and appreciate our heritage.”

Undertaking the campus project has been a tedious journey for the owners, who began cobbling together expansion plans a few years ago. Lining up project partners, securing funds and navigating municipal approval processes takes time.

Washington Financial Bank and the Small Business Administration have provided financing to Mingo Creek, which also benefited from a $500,000 grant late last year through the state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.

“It does feel like we’re finally near the end of the road,” Jim Hough said. “Granted, there is a long way to go, but this has been a big part of our workload.”

They opened their business in 2016, a few weeks after Red Pump Spirits Craft Distillers launched two blocks away, on North Main Street. The two operations became the first legal distilleries in Washington County since Prohibition (1920-1933).

“Washington has a rich history in whiskey. We were super enthusiastic about opening in the city,” Jim said, acknowledging local ties to the Whiskey Rebellion, in which Western Pennsylvania farmers and distillers protested the federal government’s establishment of a whiskey tax.

“We’re proud to be able to honor those early Pennsylvania farmer distillers and the vital role they played in the establishment of American whiskey,” Ellen added.

Super enthusiastic, apparently, applies to the four Houghs. They all caught the spirit, staging their own “whiskey rebellion” in recent years, leaving professional careers to do this. Jim, who grew up in Munhall, worked in investments. Ellen, who was raised on a farm north of Columbus, Ohio, worked in the oil and gas industry. The sons were mechanical engineers.

Liberty Pole has distinguished itself in national and international competitions, winning awards for whiskeys that can be purchased at the distillery, on the company website for shipping within the state, and in numerous other Pennsylvania locations.

Now it is poised for a long-awaited growth spurt.