Pittsburgh newcomer Rob McCaughey is a wine and spirits evangelist. The affable Brit spent the last 20 years as a global ambassador of hospitality and beverage management, working in Europe, Asia and, for the last five years, as an importer and distributor in Abu Dhabi.
McCaughey moved to Pittsburgh a few months ago to accompany his wife, a Ph.D. candidate at Pitt. He says he knew he wanted to work in the city's beverage industry, but "I wasn't quite sure what I was going to do."
When he walked into Dreadnought Wines, a Strip District libations vendor whose owners (Deb Mortillaro and Mike Gonze) put a heavy emphasis on education, he knew he'd found the right fit. After a couple of conversations, he was hired as the store's education director.
"Giving people the independence to make smart choices is a big part of what I do," he says.
McCaughey admits that Pennsylvania's tricky liquor laws took a bit of getting used to. "I didn't understand how the three-tier system or the PLCB worked," he says. Happily, "people [in the service industry] were really friendly and keen to share ideas. You don't find the snobbery you'd get in other cities."
McCaughey's classes at Dreadnought will be geared to both restaurant-industry professionals and general enthusiasts. He'll lead certification-focused classes of the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, but also teach fun evenings like a blind tasting of single-malt world whiskeys, scheduled for May 20.
"No one in the city is doing such a focused, educational program," he says. "We really want to become a one-stop shop for training."
Customers expecting an old-fashioned booze-up — something that has been known to happen at other tastings around town — should rethink their expectations. "It's not just for people to come here to drink," McCaughey says.
"This is more about understanding the actual products, flavors and regions. Tasting is there to reinforce and help people understand those building blocks."