Wigle Whiskey Distillery Photos

Recently we were lucky enough to take a look around the soon-opening Wigle Whiskey Distillery. Ending an over 80 year dry spell, Wigle (pronounced “wiggle”) will be the the first commercial distillery to operate within Pittsburgh city limits since Prohibition.

Master distiller Eric Meyer, his father Mark, and a host of supporters will be producing rye whiskey along with the less common wheat whiskey. And because aged whiskey needs at least 3 years in an oak barrel, Wigle will also be producing un-aged white rye and wheat whiskeys, which should be on shelves by the end of the year. White whiskey has been picking up steam lately amongst cocktail enthusiasts across the country and we personally can’t wait to try Wigle’s first offerings.

The entrance to Wigle's Strip District location

During our visit, our friend, production assistant, and guinea pig Hawkeye was kind enough to snap some excellent photos for us. Wigle’s combination pot/column still is itself a work of art and worthy of many more photos than we have space for here.

So check out the photos after the jump and let us know in the comments whether you’re daring enough to try an un-aged whiskey. Continue reading

Wedding Gift Booze Review: The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters

Before we delve into the final and long delayed installment in the Wedding Gift Booze Review series, let’s take a moment to talk about bitters. Though the recent cocktail revival has spurred a subsequent revival in use of bitters, it’s still an element of cocktail culture that is often overlooked. Produced through distillation and infusion of various flavors, bitters generally have a similar alcohol content by volume as most liquors. However, the intensity of flavor is such that most drink recipes call for no more than two or three dashes per cocktail.

The Bitter Truth, Angostura, Regan's, and Fee Brothers

The first bitters were invented in the early 1800s by Dr. Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert, a German who served as Surgeon General under Bolivar in the fight to free Venezuela from Spanish control. Siegert originally developed the potent distillation as a medicine and it was marketed as such when the Doctor established his distillery in the port town of Angostura in 1830. To this day, Angostura is still the dominant brand and de facto choice for any recipe that calls for bitters.

So when did medicine make its way into cocktails? Conventional wisdom tells us that it happened in the early 1900s. In the early days of the cocktail, the primary function of a mixed drink was to serve as “hair of the dog” the morning after heavy drinking. Mixing fruit juices, sugar, and other ingredients with your booze helped to make it more palatable first thing in the morning and while you’re at it, why not add some medicinal bitters to help your headache and nausea? A century later, the medicinal properties of bitters have long been dismissed, but we can still appreciate a well-crafted Old Fashioned.

The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters are very similar to Angostura (which are also aromatic bitters, as opposed to orange, mint or other flavored bitters) though the flavor is slightly different. Both brands, on their own, have an herby, woody flavor to them. The flavor is not unlike sucking on a tea bag – in a good way. Tasted side by side though the difference between the two is marked and will affect the taste of your cocktails. While Angostura is overtly citrusy, The Bitter Truth has a more floral, botanical flavor to it.

I’d be hard pressed to say that one is better than the other. They’re different animals and will throw a different cast on the cocktails you make with them. At the very least, exploring these differences is a wonderful excuse to drink twice as many Manhattans.

 

For more on bitters:

IPTB articles tagged with “bitters”

The Bitter Truth website

Angostura website

Hella Bitter website

Fee Brothers website

Bee’s Knees

One of the wonderful classic cocktails that can only be made with Applejack is the Bee’s Knees, a name that is as apropos as it is fun to say. We found this recipe in the Bartender’s Guide by Trader Vic. Ol’ Vic was the king of the west coast Tiki bar scene from the 1940s through the 60s. You know, back when Tiki bars were un-ironically, and unabashedly cool as hell. Though the debate still rages, Trader Vic is also one of two men who claimed to have invented the Mai Tai.

Now we’re going to post two slightly different recipes here. The first is Trader Vic’s recipe and you’ll notice that the volume is smaller, as was generally the case at the time. But more important than that, Vic’s recipe calls for honey. Now we tried this recipe, and found that even after vigorous shaking (we’re talking a full minute of all-out, man-on-shaker aggression) the honey ended up in a glob at the bottom of the shaker.

So after some experimentation we developed a second recipe that uses honey syrup. This is the same as simple syrup, but made with honey rather than sugar. (Find out how to make simple syrup here.) Due to the change though, we shifted the proportions of the recipe and that’s what we’ve posted second. The result is an excellent cocktail that balances sweet and tart, with a hint of apple in the finish. The perfect cocktail for the transition from summer to autumn.

Trader Vic’s Bee’s Knees

1 oz applejack

1 oz lemon juice

1 tsp honey

 

Boozehound Bee’s Knees

1 part applejack

1 part lemon juice

1 part honey syrup

Combine all the ingredients into a shaker half filled with ice and shake vigorously until chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass.

Pro Tip: Be sure to make your honey syrup from equal parts honey and water. It’s easy for this cocktail to end up overly tart.

The Bee's Knees

 

Applejack

When we discuss classic cocktails (or classic anything, really), heritage is a notion that is usually at the fore. What makes something classic, after all, is its ability to endure and affect society. When it comes to spirits, the top spot for American heritage is often attributed to bourbon, though we’ve discussed in the past that this is a post-prohibition phenomenon. Before prohibition all but wiped out the American liquor industry, rye whiskey was king. But before farmers and frontiersmen were able to turn wilderness into arable fields for grain, early American colonists drank applejack. Continue reading

The Boozehound’s Library: The Cocktails of the Ritz Paris

There’s a fair amount of discussion here on IPTB about “classic” cocktails as opposed to more modern concoctions. This discussion revolves around two main points, the first being modern cocktails’ complexity of construction (more ingredients and more often artificially flavored), and the second is the notion that a cocktail’s history, or pedigree if we want to sound snooty about it, has value. While the former point is debatable, the snooty side of that debate will find plenty of ammunition in The Cocktails of the Ritz Paris. Continue reading

Craft Sodas: I Prefer the Term Soda Jerk

Understandably, we here at IPTB get pretty hung up about a good drink. Beer, liquor, wine, cocktails, it’s just the tops! But no matter where life takes you, you’ll never forget that first love. For me it was a summer romance, because there’s nothing that goes with a hot Maine afternoon like a really, really good soda.

These days big brand sodas have all but swallowed the market whole, to the point where many people aren’t even aware that craft sodas exist. But small-batch producers of craft root beers, ginger beers, colas, shandys, and any number of other flavors are turning out products for a more discerning palette than either Coke or Pepsi can provide.

Now there’s no doubt that Coca Cola is an iconic piece of Americana and holds a special place in our cultural history; besides which, we wouldn’t have drinks like the Cuba Libre without it. But the difference between small craft soda producers and their mega-corporate counterparts is essentially the same as that between a microbrewery and Budweiser. Coke, Pepsi, and Budweiser all have to appeal to the widest market possible and produce their products on the largest scale possible. A microbrewery, or in this case a small-scale soda producer, only has to appeal to a niche market. Therefore they can take more risks, put more care into the quality of their beverage, and produce something truly unique and delicious.

Now there are untold brands and varieties of micro-produced sodas, and by their very nature most are only available near where they are produced. But we’re going to cover the two most common types of craft sodas: root beers and ginger beers.

Root Beer

Originally produced from the roots of the Sassafras tree (Sarsparilla and Birch Beer are variations originally derived from different tree roots), all commercially available root beers are now made from artificial flavoring since it was discovered that Sassafras root might cause cancer. This doesn’t necessarily detract from root beer’s status as a craft beverage though. Though cheap brands like A&W and Mug dominate the market, small-scale producers are turning out products with surprising depth and complexity of flavor. For a nationally available root beer that sets the bar for quality, look to Virgil’s. Though even Virgil’s pales in comparison with some smaller producers like Capt’n Eli. When tasting a good root beer, you can often taste subtle flavors like vanilla, caramel, or even anise.

Ginger Beer (or Ginger Brew)

Not as popular as root beer, ginger beer takes a special palette to appreciate. While most sodas are over-sweetened, a good ginger beer should have a spicy bite to it. (This is generally what distinguishes ginger beer from ginger ale, though that’s not always a reliable distinction.) Originating as an alcoholic beverage popular in England and Ireland, which employed a simple fermentation technique, the drink travelled to the Caribbean where it took hold in local cultures. While the original alcoholic version is hard to find commercially anymore, it’s not difficult to home brew. As a soft drink, ginger beer is gaining in popularity. Similar to Virgil’s root beer, Reed’s Ginger Brew is a nationally distributed brand that makes a good benchmark of quality (they’re actually produced by the same company). Again, there are other, harder to find brands that I personally prefer (Maine Root Ginger Brew), but Reed’s is an excellent place to start.

The One that Got Away

Most of what I know about craft sodas I learned as a counselor at a family summer camp in Maine. Once a week the adults would sample local beer and cheeses, and being 18 at the time, I would help entertain the children with a local soda tasting. It was here that I began to appreciate quality made sodas, and especially ginger beer. On one of my days off I meandered down the road to a local T-shirt shop. There, in the shop’s old 1950s style refrigerator I found a single can of a ginger beer brand that I had never seen before (and can’t recall it now). It was a warm afternoon in one of the best summers of my life, and I don’t deny my nostalgia, but I still maintain that that was the best soda I’ve ever had. Later I looked into where I might find it elsewhere and found that the company had shut its doors about six months before that day. By sheer chance I had happened upon what may have been one of the last cans of a Caribbean-made soda in a small T-shirt shop in rural Maine.

You’ll forgive me a bit of sentiment, but this is precisely the sort of thing that led me to boozehoundery. Alcohol has been an integral part of human history literally since the dawn of civilization. Every good drink has a story that goes with it. Booze history and lore, though not always factual and often nostalgic, is part of the appeal of a well-made drink. When done correctly, and in moderation, a good drink can bring people together, spark new friendships, and create a community where before there were strangers.

Manhattan

If the Martini is perfection through simplicity, then the Manhattan is the pinnacle of sophistication. Dating back about as far as any cocktail, the Manhattan was invented sometime around 1860. Like any old recipe, stories conflict concerning its exact origins, but general consensus agrees that the drink is named for The Manhattan Club in New York City.

2 oz whiskey (traditionally rye)

½ oz sweet vermouth

2 dashes bitters

Maraschino cherry

Fill a mixing glass halfway with ice and add the whiskey, sweet vermouth, and bitters. Stir thoroughly and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the maraschino cherry.

Older recipes stipulated the use of American whiskey which, as we mentioned in our review of (ri)1 whiskey, was predominantly rye whiskey before the onset of prohibition. Hence the Manhattan is traditionally made with rye, though bourbon or Canadian whiskey are also acceptable.

You may notice that this recipe yields a rather small drink at 2 ½ oz (most recipes we post here yield around 4 oz). This is characteristic of older recipes and many modern boozehounds will scale these up to more generous proportions. For the Manhattan though, I generally find it best to keep volume small. This drink has a lot going on both in alcohol content and flavor.

The Manhattan is a drink that demands an appreciation for whiskey, especially when made with rye. It is a cocktail that should be sipped slowly, thoughtfully, and with the veneration due to our elders.

Wedding Gift Booze Review: (rī)1 Whiskey

Let’s begin this review with full disclosure. If I have learned anything from reading Kate Hopkins’ 99 Drams of Whiskey, it’s that there is still a whole world of whiskey appreciation that I haven’t yet begun to comprehend. More than any other beverage (with perhaps the exception of wine), whiskeys of all types are subjected to an immense scrutiny by a legion of devotees, professional tasters, and all-out snobs. I myself am new to whiskey and what I do know is largely academic, as opposed to experiential. However, sampling a spirit like (rī)1 (pronounced “rye one”), is an excellent step in anyone’s whiskey education.

(rī)1 Whiskey

These days, bourbon has almost exclusively claimed the market as “America’s whiskey,” though I know a fellow named Jack who’d like to argue that point. In reality though, this notion of bourbon as American heritage is a distinctly post-Prohibition concept. Before the 18th Amendment wiped out the (legal) whiskey business in 1917, rye was by far the most commonly produced and consumed whiskey in the United States, and had been since colonial times. It wasn’t until Prohibition ended in 1933 that bourbon distillers were able to pounce on a newly reopened market and establish a solid hold on American drinkers.

In recent years however, with the revitalization of the cocktail culture, rye whiskey has been finding its way back to store shelves and home bars. One of the most popular among these is (rī)1.  Priced at $45 for a standard 750mL bottle in PA Liquor stores, (rī)1 is the higher shelf alternative to brands like Jim Beam Rye or Wild Turkey Rye, before jumping off the deep end into $80 or even $100 territory.

Even watered for tasting, (rī)1 has a kick to it. It’s a blended whiskey, which itself is not unusual. Just about any whiskey you find that isn’t labeled as “straight” or “single malt” is almost certainly blended, though generally distillers will blend an un-aged or lightly aged grain alcohol into a well-aged whiskey. This saves a tremendous amount of money for the distiller as aging is expensive and lowers alcohol content. By contrast, however, (rī)1 is blended from several different ages of whiskeys, the youngest of which being four and a half years. The result of this process goes into the bottle at 92 proof.

But (rī)1′s kick doesn’t just come from its high proof. As far as whiskeys go, (rī)1 has a spicy, almost harsh flavor to it, which comes on very strong very fast. This then peters off into a long lingering finish that sits and tingles the tongue. Whiskey newcomers, and even seasoned bourbon drinkers, will have a lot to wrestle with when sampling (rī)1 for the first time. I know I did.

This spiciness, I’ve found, works tremendously well to balance an Old Fashioned. A sweeter bourbon can have a tendency to lose its flavor in the fruity mash that is the basis of this classic whiskey cocktail, but (rī)1’s bold flavor stands out and nicely punctuates each sip. In a similar vein, Shanna has taken to muddling peaches with honey and topping with (rī)1 and a few ice cubes.

Overall I was very impressed by (rī)1. It’s not for everyone, but that in itself can be a strength. Certainly on flavor it doesn’t compromise for wider appeal and that’s reflected in the price tag. For boozehounds of modest means, like Shanna and myself, this is not an everyday spirit. It does, however, make an excellent gift should you find yourself attending the wedding of a discerning drinker.

Read more Wedding Gift Booze Reviews.

The Boozehound’s Library: 99 Drams of Whiskey

Just like you come here to learn about booze, Shanna and I are constantly learning ourselves. I like to think that this is one of IPTB’s charms. We don’t rarely lecture about the rights and wrongs of cocktail culture. Instead, we’re exploring along with our readers, passing on knowledge and insight as we accumulate it.  Shanna and I are still students of boozology ourselves and we learn a tremendous amount from reading. (For our previous book review, check out The Cocktail Compendium.)

99 Drams of Whiskey by Kate Hopkins

One of the best-written and most informative books on spirits I have yet found is Kate Hopkins’ 99 Drams of Whiskey: The Accidental Hedonist’s Quest for the Perfect Shot and the History of the Drink. Hopkins is the food and drink blogger responsible for The Accidental Hedonist.  Lately, the designation “food blog” has become almost derogatory in a sea of amateurs posting photos of spaghetti, but Hopkins adds a refreshing dose of good ol’ common sense to a field and an industry that is too often caught up in itself. The Accidental Hedonist also boasts an extremely comprehensive “Guide to Beer.” For The AH’s guide to whiskey, however, you’ll have to log off for a while and pick up a real ink-on-paper book.

99 Drams of Whiskey is structured to interweave two stories.  One chronicles Hopkins’ international tour of distilleries as she tries to probe the spirit’s broad and at times cult-like appeal.  In parallel to this, we learn about the history of the drink itself. Alcohol has been a part of everyday life since the earliest days of civilization, but few drinks have influenced and been influenced by human history as profoundly as whiskey.  Especially in Ireland and Scotland, the history of whiskey is inextricable from the history of politics and colonialism.

Though some may yawn at the prospect of reading history, Hopkins’ writing is engaging, informative, and at times whimsical.  Much like we strive to do here at IPTB, her tone is never condescending.  Hopkins approaches the subject as a newcomer, without the pomp of a connoisseur. As she puts it,

What do you do with the folks who are simply crazy-obsessive about their drink? More than any other factor, it is these folks who make the whiskey world so intimidating to newcomers. If you ask a whiskey professional what’s the best way to enjoy the spirit, they’re most likely to respond: “Any way you like.” Ask a whiskey obsessive the same question, and you’re likely to get an answer regarding how much water is proper to add to a specific type of whiskey, and then a lot of detail about how much water to remove for each year that the whiskey has aged. For a newcomer to the spirit, this can be overwhelming.

Undoubtedly, the overall message of 99 Drams of Whiskey is this: whiskey is a drink to be enjoyed. If that means analyzing flavors and dissecting the process, then more power to you. But if you just want a nice tipple to enjoy in good company, then that’s how you should drink it. Whatever your goals are, 99 Drams of Whiskey is a fun read and an informative addition to any boozehound’s library.