Iron City, Strong Spirits

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On a recent trip to Pittsburgh I visited numerous watering holes* and was delighted by cocktails crafted from fresh components.  Some drinks featured innovative ingredients (coconut cream, tarragon, crushed red pepper,) others were deftly executed classics, but every bar had an assortment of exciting spirits from Pittsburgh’s own Wigle distillery. Local spirits are alive and well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of Pittsburgh's famous Primanti Brothers sandwhiches.

 

Wigle hopes to reestablish Pennsylvania’s illustrious distilling history. Today Pittsburgh may be better known for Iron City beer (don’t try it) and Primanti Brother’s French fry and coleslaw stuffed sandwich (do try it, especially the local favorite “Pitts-burger”,) but before prohibition western Pennsylvania produced five times as much whiskey as Kentucky. Pittsburgh was the epicenter of this enterprise, with about 4,000 stills operating in the mid-eighteenth centaury (for perspective, the population was around 20,000.) Whiskey was truly the lifeblood of the city, and in many circumstances replaced money as a means of colloquial currency. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A historic pot still found in the fantastic Senator John Heinz History Center.

 

Whiskey was a great way to utilize excess grains, and for Pittsburgh, that grain was rye of the Monongahela River Valley. Rye, like wine grapes, is most distinctive when grown in poor soils, and the valley’s composition of clay with some sand, silt, and gravel makes for low yields, and high quality crops. We don’t usually think of American spirits as showing terroir, but whiskey made from these fields has a spicier, more robust profile than their cousins from the south. Unfortunately, whiskey drinkers in the last several decades have not had the opportunity to try this style of rye as Pennsylvania was without a distillery until the last decade.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wigle's beautiful, modern pot still.

 

Enter Wigle: Pittsburgh’s first new distillery to open since America’s prohibition. The name Wigle comes from Philip Wigle, a Pittsburgher who in the 1780s refused to pay a whiskey tax and sparked the Whiskey Rebellion, pitting rebel distillers against George Washington’s young, national army. Wigle was sentenced to be hung, but a last minute twist of fate saved him from the gallows. Today’s Wigle is far less confrontational, as the distillery is a family affair and committed to being a constructive part of Pittsburgh’s community. All of the grain is sourced from the soils of the Monongahela river valley within 300 miles of Wigle’s location. The Wigles are committed to non-GMO, organic grain, and support local farmers working organically by purchasing 3 tons of grain a week that is then processed at Wigle’s on-site grist mill. You won’t find industrial column stills here: the less efficient, but higher quality pot stills are used to create a spirit that still carries much of the grain’s flavor. There are very few distilleries in the world that take such care in sourcing locally to create a product that is a true reflection of a place and a part of America’s potable history.

We’ll be sampling a line-up of Wigle’s wonderful products from 5-8 on Friday, March 20th. Wigle’s staff will be on hand to explain the distillation process, and to create some phenomenal cocktails. We’ll be featuring a couple of products not available outside of Pennsylvania along with the classic Wigle rye and Gin. Please join us! John Rankin

 

*If you’re visiting Pittsburgh we’d highly recommend having a drink at Tender, Acacia, or Bar Marco, which has both beautiful cocktails and a superb wine list.

Wigle Landlocked Spiced (like spiced rum) 750

In the not too distant past, spiced rum was a spirit to avoid at all costs. Producers took an already sweet product (rum,) added artificial vanilla and citrus flavors, cinnamon, and then even more sugar to create a beverage made to appeal to the sweet tooth of an undergraduate student. We now have choices of spiced rum that are actually delicious and actually spicy. Wigle’s entry starts with a distillate of buckwheat honey – a tribute to the local grain known for its earthy, woodsy flavor. Next, a slew of ingredients are infused into spirit. Wigle uses vanilla bean, roasted orange peel, cocoa nibs, and cinnamon for a drink that is aromatically very complex, and downright spicy. This peppery kick makes the spirit an ideal partner for ginger beer, or a feisty member of a punch bowl. John Rankin

  • rum
  • 17 in stock
  • no discount
  • $38.99

  • Organic
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Wigle Pittsburgh Organic Rye Whiskey

This is Wigle’s flagship and homage to Pittsburgh’s legendary whiskies. The recipe is always heavy on rye, but also features guest appearances of wheat and barley in varying proportion based on the availability of local, organic grains. This changing composition mimics how whiskies would have been made in the past when they functioned as a way to preserve the season’s excess grain without having to worry about spoilage. This dedication to the grain, tradition, and spirit of the locality shows the terroir of the area as opposed to the non-descript industrial grain used by the big producers. The result is a whiskey with a deeply earthy, savory grain character, with a powerful, spicy finish and robust body. One could certainly enjoy this whiskey on its own or with ice, but I love the idea of using it as a building block to make cocktails as they would have tasted before Prohibition. John Rankin

  • Out of Stock
  • rye whiskey
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $49.99

  • Organic

Wigle Pittsburgh Organic Rye Whiskey Deep Cut Cask Strength 60.5%

If the original Wigle is an introduction to bold and zesty rye whiskey, than this is a master class. No water is added to Deep Cut after being removed from barrel, so this is a robust drink at just over 60% alcohol. Only for the brave! John Rankin

  • Out of Stock
  • rye whiskey
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $69.99

  • Organic

Wigle Organic Wheat Whiskey Finished with White Ash .375

Wigle may be best known for its Rye, but they also make a fair amount of delicious wheat whiskey. The wheat has less of a spicy punch than the rye, so it makes a beautiful canvas to experiment with wooden staves from a variety of trees that add another layer of flavor. It was fascinating to taste the lineup of sassafras, maple, and cherry wood, but the one that I couldn’t stop thinking about was infused with white ash staves. The white ash adds a layer of complexity without creating too much sweet flavors; instead, the whiskey finishes with a dry, peppery character and shows more savory and less vanilla than the basic wheat bottling. This is a fantastic spirit for anyone looking for a dry, complex, earth-driven whiskey. John Rankin

  • Out of Stock
  • whiskey
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $30.99

  • Organic

Wigle Pittsburgh Organic Ginever

At Wigle gin is made from scratch in a style similar to the old Dutch recipes, not the modern London style. The Dutch, or Ginever, style of gin is made from a grain base similar to unaged whiskey. It’s distilled in a traditional pot still to a fairly low percentage of alcohol, so the spirit has a rich body and an earthy/grainy flavor. Most modern gins are made in column stills that are capable of extremely high-percentage alcohol. When one distills to that level they lose the entire flavor of the grain. At Wigle so much care is taken in growing, selecting, and milling the heirloom grains it would be a shame to lose all of the great flavors. While distilling, the spirit passes through a variety of botanicals including cardamom, lavender, and, of course, juniper. The result is a rich, complex gin suitable for your favorite cocktails, but delicious on its own! John Rankin

  • Out of Stock
  • gin
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $45.99

  • Organic