Don't panic, but rumored bourbon shortages are real. With companies like Buffalo Trace and Maker's Mark acknowledging that their stores look a bit low to meet consumer demand, it would be easy for brown-liquor enthusiasts to despair. Fortunately, Pittsburghers won't have to suffer.
On May 29, Wigle Whiskey released its first bourbon. "We said we'd never make a bourbon," says Wigle Distillery co-owner Meredith Grelli, "but people ask for it every day." Always up for a challenge, Wigle staff found a way to reconcile bourbon distilling with their company's off-beat spirit. They sought out organic ingredients from local sources, dug through local history, and taste-tested their way to the release of two batches, one of cask strength and one of 92 proof. The bourbon is made with organic, heirloom Wapsie Valley corn from Weatherbury farms in Washington County; soft winter wheat; and malted two-row barley.
Wigle's forays into Pennsylvania's rich history of spirit production have mostly centered on rye whiskey, its primary product. A look into bourbon history reveals that this would be, by most accounts, the first commercially distilled Pennsylvania bourbon in about 40 years. Bomberger's Distillery, near Schaefferstown, was the last bastion of the liquor, but hadn't made bourbon for years before it closed, in 1989. The last remaining bourbon made there, A.H. Hirsch Reserve, a 16-year-old sour mash, is considered one of the world's best by connoisseurs. It's also among the most expensive. A bottle from the PLCB's cache goes for $1,520.
The first release of Wigle's bourbon will be about 500 bottles, and will first be available to Pittsburgh. A mid-May sneak peak at (or, rather, taste of) the 92-proof whiskey revealed a delightfully deeply flavored spirit. Vanilla and caramel notes dominated, and its velvety drinkability made it ideal for a straight pour. The cask-strength, while also complex in flavor, is arguably only for bourbon enthusiasts with bacchanalian leanings.