Pittsburgh Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival Recap

It’s now a couple days after the 2011 Pittsburgh Whiskey Festival and I’m still doing my best to collect and organize my thoughts from that evening, so let’s start with the obvious: it was awesome. “Kid in a candy store” doesn’t cover it.

Organized by the good folks who bring us the Pittsburgh Wine Festival in partnership with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, this was the fifth Pittsburgh Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival. Proceeds benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

In all, close to 175 spirits brands crowded the East Club Lounge at Heinz Field and any remaining floor space was flooded by hundreds of attendees. The atmosphere in that expansive yet cramped space was, in my experience, unique. It was hectic (We have to try the good stuff before they run out!), it was exciting (Angel’s Envy, Philadelphia Distilling, and our good friends from Wigle were all in attendance!), it was drunk (We tried all the good stuff before they ran out!).

It seemed to me that vendors and attendees were divided into factions, which is representative of attitudes towards drinking these days. There were the attendees who were there to get drunk and the booze brands that cater to them. You could generally identify these brands by the presence of “booth babes,” a phenomenon usually reserved for Comic Cons and trade shows.

Fred Noe, the great-grandson of Jim Beam, accompanied by partygoers.

On the other side of the coin, however, there were a tremendous number of people who were genuinely interested in tasting the liquors on offer (ending up a bit wobbly was a side effect). Luckily for us, there was a fantastic lineup of distilleries represented that offered some amazing liquors to sample.

We made a point to limit our intake to labels we really wanted to try. This included large established brands that might otherwise be outside of our price range (such as Laphroaig 18 Year Old scotch), smaller brands that might be harder to find (like Death’s Door White Whiskey, or Isle of Jura Scotch), and stuff we just hadn’t gotten around to yet (looking at you Vieux Carré, Buffalo Trace, and Doctor McGillicuddy’s Root Beer Schnapps). Plus we visited some old friends like Hendrick’s, Kraken, and Tub Gin.

Isle of Jura Scotch

We also noticed that larger distilleries tended to be more liberal pourers, as opposed to the smaller operations that cared more about – first – a proper tasting, and – second – making sure they had enough stock to last the night.

As excellent as the evening was, we were mightily disappointed by one thing. We, and many other attendees, were looking forward to the Whiskey Fest as our first opportunity to sample Wigle Whiskey’s first batch. And though Eric Meyer and company were present, they were unable to distribute the long-awaited samples. Why? Because the PLCB hadn’t approved their label. Their label. Instead Eric was distributing high-fives and rice-krispie treats that had been sneakily laced with whiskey. We are however, looking forward to Wigle’s Grand Opening on December 2nd (be sure to check back here for coverage).

A personal-sized cask so you can age your own Wigle. Seen also: an illicit Wigle label.

In all, there was very little about this year’s Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival that wasn’t excellent. There was tasty food (though more variety and more locations would have been nice), fantastic booze, and friendly people. In fact, we were pleased to find so many friends and acquaintances there who work in the industry. It almost makes me think we’re beginning to make a name for ourselves.

But more importantly, we made a handful of new friends and connections. In particular we think you should check out YourGrail.com

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6 thoughts on “Pittsburgh Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival Recap

  1. It’s the TTB, a branch of the US Treasury Dept, that approves liquor labels, not the PLCB. And the TTB has become notoriously slow these days. It used to be you could get a label approval done in an afternoon, now it can take weeks. Kind of unfortunate for small shops like Wigle who need to get their product out the door as soon as possible.

    • Matt & Shanna says:

      Thanks for the correction! I certainly don’t claim to have any special knowledge of PA liquor law. All I know is, I was disappointed.

  2. The festival is not only about whiskies, cognac brands such as Deau, Cognac Guy Lheraud, La Gabare, Cognac Prunier, brandy brands such as Samalens, variety of rum, such as Zacapa Rum, Angostura Rum, Pink Pigeon Rum and vodka brands Absolut Vodka and Legend of Kremlin are all waiting for your enjoyment.

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