A few weeks ago, the folks at Wigle Whiskey tapped a barrel with a complicated past. Its formative years were spent aging Kentucky bourbon, lending color and flavor to sweet corn whiskey. The barrel then worked its way up the Ohio River and landed at Pittsburgh’s East End Brewing, where owner Scott Smith filled it with rich, malty Gratitude Barleywine. Once drained, he sent the barrel over to Wigle Whiskey, which began using it to age its Dutch-style Ginever.
In late July, Wigle debuted the result of that project, the first release in its Brewers Series. Wigle is collaborating with local brewers on an array of experimental one-offs, combining beer and spirits in surprising new ways. For one upcoming spirit, Wigle will distill a batch of Spoonwood’s wildly popular Smoke & Oats beer to create a smoked malt whiskey. Another entry was born when Penn Brewery was stuck with several pallets of Oktoberfest well past the season. Volunteers dumped more than 10,000 bottles of the stuff into Wigle’s still, and the results are aging for a release next fall.
“Craft-beer people and craft-cocktail people can be different groups,” explains Wes Shonk, of Wigle Whiskey. “We wanted to bridge that gap in a way that is beneficial for everyone.”
Though this is certainly not the first time brewing and distilling have collided (beer is commonly aged in everything from sherry casks to tequila barrels), the local focus and collaborative approach are unique. Wigle works with the brewery on everything from sourcing ingredients to creating the labels, each of which will feature work from a different local artist.
The Barleywine Barrel-Rested Ginever is on sale at Wigle’s distillery and barrelhouse. Quantities are limited, but there are plenty more Brewers Series bottles in the pipeline. Oh, and that barrel? It’s back at East End, ready for Smith to create some sort of barleywine-bourbon-Ginever beast of a beer.