Visiting Wigle in Pittsburgh, PA
Wigle distillery located in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania takes its name from one of America's earliest champions of domestic whiskey production, Phillip Wigle, credited with participating in the famous Whiskey Rebellion of 1791. It's common to hear of American Whiskey and immediately think of southern Bourbon, but we really owe our debt of gratitude to the German and Irish immigrants of Pennsylvania who distilled so much rye at the time it was considered a secondary form of currency. America's first excise tax was on domestic distilled spirits (thanks to the secretary of treasury at the time, Alexander Hamilton) to repay debts accrued during the Revolutionary War. The whiskey tax caused such an uproar and protests from spirits producers that it was sparked the first time in history that a president (well, it actually was THE first president, George Washington) unleashed a militia on his own people. Battle lines had long been drawn but as citizens didn’t exactly carry driver’s licenses back then, many of those accused of being on the side of the insurrection were able to evade capture and disappear into the expanding west. Our young hero Wigle however was convicted of treason and sent to the gallows. (Did you know beating up a tax collector counts as treason?). Later pardoned, Wigle’s memory stands as a reminder of the power of the laboring class and a signifier of just how much American’s value their hooch (and/or hate taxes).
The reason why an introduction to Wigle requires this Cliffs Notes recap of the Whiskey Rebellion is because everything about what happens at their distillery is deeply embedded in local history as well as an investment in the community’s future. Owned by Alex and Meredith Grelli, but operated by a huge team of fascinating characters all with their own unique talents and contributions. While the flagship is and likely will always be Mononghahela Rye, grown in the valley of the eponymous river flowing through Pittsburg, they also distill from wheat, barley and corn, creating a bevy of whiskeys, brandies, gins and very soon, ciders. All ingredients are sourced locally, working closely with farmers to propagate nearly forgotten heirloom grains such as Wapsie Valley corn with giant ruby-red kernels almost prohibitively expensive to grown on a large scale. Again, everything is sourced locally and responsibly not because it’s trendy because they’ve always believed it was the right thing to do. They partner with local businesses, brewers and generally just their audience in Pittsburg, being ever open-minded to public reception of their products.
A wise alien once said “there is no try, only do.” Well to cover all bases Wigle does a lot and they certainly try everything too; no idea is too out there to experiment and any failure is always seen as a falling up not a falling down. Currently they are building a new cidery called Threadbare and themed after Johnny Appleseed. I don’t know if Meredith Grelli was a history teacher in a past life but she certainly comports herself as such—ask her anything. Threadbare will be fermenting and serving on-site multiple styles of cider from local cider apples to a town that is literally overrun with breweries so this again is just the right side step out of the norm. And even more so, the cidery is being built on the “wrong side of the tracks” so to speak as Meredith is working directly with the city to have the surrounding abandoned and condemned buildings and lots cleared out by the city so new fresh talent can move in and contribute to the regeneration of this forgotten corner of such a historic city. With roughly twenty products available year round, it’s not hard to find something from Wigle you can enjoy, and it’s absolutely impossible not to enjoy the company of Alex and Meredith who somehow take nothing and everything seriously at the same time. Plenty of city’s could benefit from their ingenuity and generosity.