For locals, whiskey enthusiasts, and history buffs, Washington, PA, holds a special place as the home of the “Whiskey Rebellion.” Today, Washington is also known for Mingo Creek Craft Distillers, which does business as Liberty Pole Spirits. Here, the Hough family welcomes guests to their new headquarters, where they distill and sell bourbons and whiskeys on a campus that’s as welcoming as it is productive.
Here’s how an SBA 504 loan from Pursuit, in partnership with Washington Financial, helped the Hough family build their dream campus in southwestern Pennsylvania, honoring the region’s legacy of spirit-based rebellion.
A retirement hobby becomes a thriving family venture
Jim Hough, co-founder and co-owner of Liberty Pole along with his wife, Ellen, explains that he was tinkering with home distilling as a potential retirement hobby – and when his skills and interest grew, he convinced her that opening a distillery could be fun. When their sons, Kevin and Rob, decided to leave careers behind to join the venture, Liberty Pole’s core crew solidified.
They launched in 2016, with sales onsite, online, and through distribution to local bars and restaurants via the Pennsylvania State Liquor Control Board, which manages spirit distribution.
“Rye whiskey is our bread-and-butter seller, in part due to its historic ties to Pennsylvania distillers,” Kevin says. “Our bourbon is popular, too, and we have a bourbon cream that’s a great way to introduce people to our spirits when they don’t consider themselves whiskey or bourbon drinkers.”
An SBA 504 loan provides key financing for a new campus
With their spirits growing in popularity, the Houghs twice expanded their operations, including the most recent project: ground-up construction of a new campus.
To finance the project, they turned to their commercial bank, Washington Financial, who recommended an SBA 504 loan in partnership with Pursuit. SBA 504 loans are the leading choice for small businesses that need financing for commercial real estate purchases, renovations, and ground-up construction projects, like Liberty Pole. They’re made in partnership between a bank and an SBA lender, like Pursuit, with the SBA portion financing $50,000 to $5.5 million.
The Houghs were familiar with SBA loans. But with the three-year timeline for whiskey production, they had to consider long-range impacts of financing. The spirits they’re producing today won’t be sold before 2026.
“Our bank put us in touch with Ryan Lockhart at Pursuit to review the SBA 504 program and we knew it was the right loan for us,” Jim says. “In addition to the low down payment, our loan has a 25-year term, which means that monthly payments are lower, and it has a fixed interest rate, so our payment won’t change over time. That’s important for a business like ours that won’t see a revenue-generation impact from our investment for several years.”
Creating their dream campus from the ground up
With education and backgrounds in mechanical engineering, Kevin and Rob guided the project through its various stages and coordinated crews, while Jim and Ellen worked with the architects to make sure the new tasting room had the same colonial feeling as their original location.
“We envisioned creating much more than an expanded production facility – and we wanted it to be perfect,” Kevin explains. “We wanted to celebrate the heritage, the ties to our community, whiskey tourism, and the traditions behind local distilling. We explored every detail to create a campus that brings together everything we love about our region’s legacy with state-of-the-art capabilities.”
With SBA 504 financing, they created a new campus that includes the Mingo Creek Meetinghouse – a tasting room that’s modeled after an 18th-century meetinghouse with fireplaces, a springhouse bar, and a visitor center – and a state-of-the-art production facility. Notably, it also includes an open-air five-floor wood rickhouse – a traditional wooden structure that creates the airflow needed for flavor, color, and aroma during the barrel-aging process.
The buildings total more than 14,000 square feet for guest services and sales, operations, and production, and capacity can be expanded to produce up to 60,000 gallons of spirits annually. Overall, the project took about 18 months of planning and 15 months for construction.
Today, as Jim hosts guests in the tasting room, Ellen creates their craft cocktails, branding, and front-of-house experience while Kevin and Rob oversee production and distribution.
The right team makes the process easier
Despite the complexity of the project, Kevin says the financing process was easy. Jim adds, “There’s a lot of paperwork, but Ryan and our Pursuit team and our bank were responsive and great to work with on our SBA 504 loan.”
And while Liberty Pole was created by the Houghs, expansions have grown the Liberty Pole family to about eight full-time employees and more than 30 part-time employees in the tasting room, shop, bar, and distillery.
Together, they’ve learned a lot, including how to pivot and respond in the face of unforeseen challenges, like supply shortages resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. They also leveraged supplies they had on hand to help the community, including creating hand sanitizer that they distributed for free to first-responders and healthcare facilities.
Pursuit helps small businesses with construction, equipment, and more
At the 2022 groundbreaking, the Hough family marked the event with the raising of a Liberty Pole – a symbol of the free-spiritedness cherished by the whiskey rebels. It now lives inside the Meetinghouse, while a larger Liberty Pole, installed outside, stands as a symbol to all of the region’s proud legacy. With loan options up to $5.5 million, Pursuit can help you get the financing you need. Take a look at our 15+ small business loan programs and our line of credit, then contact us to learn about how we can help you, too.