Most of us Pittsburghers who enjoy fine spirits already know that there is a distillery located in the Strip District called Wigle Whiskey. But did you know that Wigle is the very first distillery to be located in Pittsburgh since Prohibition? That was new for us; we learned about that and much, much more when we took a guided tour of the Wigle facility on a brisk Saturday morning.
The Wigle Whiskey Distillery Tour turned out to be a tremendously fun event. The hour-long tours take place on Saturdays and are only $20. And for that price, you get a whole lot of value, a whole lot of whiskey (and gin and rum) tastes, and a lot of cool information about Pittsburgh’s important place in the history of North American whiskey.
You start your tour here, in the tasting room. Before you get into the walking and the history, Wigle kindly primes you up with a cocktail of your choosing.
There are several options, but Fox and I chose The Will Groves and the Red Rider. (Guess which is which?) The Will Groves (my choice) is made from Wigle’s white rye whiskey, mulled cider, apple, and cinnamon — served warm to make a perfect winter beverage. The Red Rider (Fox’s pick) features Wigle’s Landlocked, which is a rum-like distilled mead, with cranberry, lemon, honey, and ginger beer. They were both scrumptious — but be careful not to spill and make your glass sticky like I did…you might be carrying your drink for a decent portion of the tour.
And what a tour it was! Over the course of the hour, your guide will expertly weave two narratives. The first?
The story of Wigle Whiskey’s production process. You get walked through how rye grain is milled to powder, brewed, and then distilled into the fine base for Old Fashioneds and Manhattans and Sazeracs. You also get to learn fun tidbits, such as the fact that Wigle Whiskey has no forklift, so all the grains must be carried by hand to the hammer mill.
And the other narrative?
The true tale of historical figure and distillery namesake Phillip Wigle. I’m not going to link out to his story, because it’s best to hear it told on the tour — but let’s just say, this 18th-century badass German émigré basically instigated a little conflict you might remember from middle school history class, known as…The Whiskey Rebellion!
- Pre-Rebellion, there were 4,000 distilleries in Western Pennsylvania, whereas today, Wigle is one of only five.
- In the 1790s, Western PA was the place for good rye whiskey.
- The Whiskey Tax that led to the rebellion also caused many Western PA distillers to move to an untaxed paradise known as Canada…where they played a major part in the growth of Canadian Rye Whisky. (I would presume they lost whiskey’s e in the move.)
- Other distillers left Western PA at Thomas Jefferson’s behest to grow corn in Kentucky…leading to the birth of bourbon.
How cool is all that? If you said, “Incredibly so!”, then you’re right, dammit!
After the funny and informative tour, we were led to the area where the whiskey ages in barrels (per the law, in pristine, new oak barrels, natch).
Back in that nook, we all sat down to have a tasting of a bunch of all-organic Wigle products. We tried the White (read: unaged) Rye Whiskey, the Aged Rye, the White Wheat Whiskey, Wigle Ginever (in which the distillation process includes a botanical infusion to produce gin), and lastly, the Landlocked Spiced, which is very similar to rum — but since Wigle only uses locally sourced raw materials, and there are no local molasses or sugar cane farms in Western PA, it’s actually a distilled mead).
All of the spirits are delicious, and can be purchased at the distillery. One thing you can get anywhere by ordering on Amazon, though, is Wigle’s housemade bitters!
As you can see, the Wigle Tour is a lot of fun. If you live in Western PA or plan on visiting, we highly recommend getting some tickets. A toast to your future attendance!