Pittsburgh's first new distillery since prohibition

Wigle Whiskey, a new distillery a short walk from home here in Pittsburgh, is a symbol of the city's comeback. But it's not just hip, even if, with its contemporary sans-serif branding, it is certainly that. It makes great liquor, too, and is now producing a range of tasty year-old whiskies, an unusual gin, honey rum and bitters. I took a tour of the city's first legal still in decades–and bought a few bottles to take home.

It's named for Philip Wigle, a participant in the Whiskey Rebellion who attacked a tax collector, was condemned to hang, and ultimately received a pardon from President Washington. The first new Pittsburgh distillery since prohibition (and the first to operate since the 70s) has had more success working with the authorities, lobbying to update Pennsylvania law to let it sell directly from the premises even as it invested huge sums into its Strip District operation. So the proprietors–Eric Meyer and much of his extended family–know a thing or two about risk.

Since opening in 2012–immediately after the law was changed to allow them to do business–Wigle's produced a consistent series of offerings, starting with white rye and wheat whiskeys. Home-aging kits, with tiny white oak barrels, were also on offer from the get-go (though Wigle itself is aging its spirits in standard barrels).

They do tours; here's Eric Meyer giving a Carnegie Mellon videographer an abbreviated look around: "About half of what we make we bottle immediately as white or clear whiskey; the other half goes into the barrel."

And here's Meredith Meyer Grelli, explaining their motivation: "We're committed to stealing our heritage back from Kentucky and bringing it to its rightful place."

But the real fun is to be had in the tasting parties, regularly hosted to show off freshly bottled products—most recently year-old whiskies "finished" in maple and red oak casks.

I enjoyed the white whiskies, but not as much as limited-release aged rye, which had a rich, sweet flavor, not harsh in the slightest. I've downed a few bottles, in fact, and fancied that I liked the "assertive" Deep Cut edition the best.

The Ginever, a Dutch-style gin, is also marvelous. Quirky and not at all like what I'm used to, I loved sipping it straight or with tonic. But not so much in more complex cocktails, or anywhere else its distinctiveness gets buried under mixers or liqueurs.

Wigle's latest is Landlocked. Made with local buckwheat honey instead of sugarcane or molasses, it's "not rum by federal definition", but worked just fine in all the rum cocktails I could remember–especially ones involving triple sec. The spiced version appears to be the more popular cut, but I preferred it plain.

The branding is nice, too, avoiding oaky smokey old-man elaborations in favor of flat, bright colors and modern typography. We've enjoyed re-using their perfectly plain bottles to create vodka infusions that don't look like something from a meth lab.

For a more comprehensive review of the white rye, try the one at Whiskey Reviewer, which awards it an A-.

The word is complex: spicy, cool, and sweet swirl together, piqued by a note of anis. A pleasantly long finish travels through citrus and spice to a refreshing fennel. This is Philip Wigle's Monongahela Rye reclaiming it's rebellious roots. An unassuming, unaged Rye that surpasses the expectations of white whiskey, it sets Wigle Whiskey apart from the ongoing white whiskey trend. It should be ensured a successful and lasting future.

There you go. The only problem, really, is that unless you're in Pittsburgh or one of very few retailers outside it, just finding this stuff might require an executive order.