2401 Smallman St., Strip District
412-224-2827 or www.wiglewhiskey.com
The people at Wigle Whiskey understand the weight associated with being Western Pennsylvania's largest craft distillery. And they embrace it by setting lofty goals.
"We want our role in the industry to be the one to bring back traditions, while also innovating and educating," says co-owner Meredith Grelli
They have accomplished these goals, and then some, since opening the distillery in 2012. The spicy and robust Wigle Rye, which reignited the traditional style of Monongahela rye whiskey enjoyed by Abraham Lincoln, is now distributed to liquor stores throughout the Mid-Atlantic and New England.
Their innovative spirit (pun intended) led them to create a liquor called Landlocked, which is basically a rum made from local honey instead of sugar. They have also been experimenting with grappa (booze distilled from Erie wine grapes), vermouth, a yet-to-be-approved absinthe, and the recent release of a whiskey infused with hops. Wigle even distilled some Penn Oktoberfest beer into a German beer brandy of sorts. (Look for that sometime next year.)
Even with all the experimentation, making whiskey is still Wigle's bread-and-butter. "Whiskey will always be the heart of our business," says Grelli. Four of Wigle's whiskeys won medals at the 2015 American Craft Spirits Association awards, including the prize for the best rye whiskey in the nation, for its Deep Cut Rye.
With the increased recognition of craft distillers like Wigle, Grelli warns drinkers of craft spirits about imitators. She says that small distillers have been in hot water because some of them merely purchase spirits from a giant facility in Indiana, then market them as locally crafted. (Grelli recommends looking at the bottle's label to make sure it's "distilled and bottled" in your region.)
To ensure that consumers don't feel this way about Wigle, the company opens its facilities to everyone through dozens of events each month, where visitors can watch the spirits being distilled. Events range from labeling parties, where volunteers help place labels on bottles in exchange for free cocktails and camaraderie, to elegant dinners with designed drink pairings and live music. (Coming soon, Wigle has a bunch of beer-related parties for those of you who like to chase your local microbrew with a local whiskey.)
The community support and national recognition has been so strong that Wigle will soon be adding a second still to its operation and expanding to a third location. In liquor production, the Wigle team is dedicated to pushing the envelope, as evidenced by its 36 different products. And distiller David Harries feels fortunate that spirits, by nature, give him a little wiggle (pun intended) room to try just about anything, without the fear of producing something no one will like.
"Booze is like nachos, pizza and sex," says Harries. "Even when bad, they are still all pretty good."