Our favorite Pittsburgh distillery (Wigle Whiskey) is now making Genever-Style Gin. What is Genever, you ask? Let’s climb into the Boozehound Way-back Machine with our new favorite in a green-glass bottle!
Some of our regular readers, and especially those who follow us on Facebook and Twitter, will no doubt have picked up on our poorly concealed secret project. For the past several months we’ve been putting together the very first I Prefer the Term Boozehound video episode, and we’re finally ready to share it with you. Episode 1 features a beer tasting with Shanna, mixing a Bronx cocktail with Matt, and an interview with Whiskey Daisy & Stella Can-Can from the Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails.
We learned a lot making this episode, and we’ve definitely got a lot to improve on for Episode 2. But rest assured that Episode 2 is coming, and hopefully not far off.
Also, be sure to watch all the way to end for an added bonus.
With Thanksgiving, Gløgg, and a nearly comatose long weekend behind us, it’s time at last to take a look back at this year’s Brewfest hosted by the Pittsburgh Rugby Club. Held on November 19th – seemingly ages ago now – in the Saddle Ridge/Bar Room/Steelhouse complex at Station Square, Brewfest brought together nearly 30 breweries including local talent, national brands, and international giants.
Initially Shanna and I wrote to the organizers to ask about covering the event (read: mooch free VIP passes) but almost immediately we were offered the opportunity to serve on the panel of judges. Now, as booze bloggers I can see how we might be mistaken for authorities on the subject. However, our blogging process has generally followed the three step method of research, taste, and post. In this way we’re learning and exploring booze right along with our readers. We never claim to be experts, just thirsty. And yet, when asked if we’d like to drink as much fantastic beer as we possibly can, provide our opinions for serious consideration, and not pay a dime – why, it’s as if the word “no” never existed.
So on the day of the event we arrived at Station Square just before the doors opened for an hour of VIP-only access. The Brewfest was spread out over three interconnected establishments, each starkly different in atmosphere and décor from country saloon to dance club to sports bar. Now maybe I’m exposing myself as a 25 year old grumpy old man, but I really much preferred the VIP hour to the chaos that followed. For that first hour we were able to take our time, talk to the brewery reps, and be heard without shouting to the person next to you. You know, an atmosphere that’s generally conducive to tasting and judging good beer. But as the place filled up, the music got louder, the lights got dimmer, and the lines got longer. I began to think that this must be were frat parties go when they graduate.
All that aside though, there was a tremendous sampling of beer on hand. Big names included Guinness, Blue Moon, Magic Hat and Sierra Nevada alongside national craft breweries like Harpoon, Great Lakes, Brooklyn, Southern Tier, and Rogue. And though a few of these larger-scale labels brought some pleasant surprises with them, these are essentially known quantities. A Brooklyn Lager, while one of the better lagers on the market, is no different at Brewfest than the dozen or so I’ve knocked back in a bar. I was really more interested in the local boys, and with good reason. Among the Pittsburgh-based brewers we sampled beers from The Three Rivers Underground Brewers, Penn Brewery, Duquesne Pilsner, Milkman Brewing, and The Church Brew Works.
Hops are definitely on the rise, as they have been for several years now. Despite autumn and winter traditionally being stout season, a large percentage of the contenders were hopped-up IPAs. Last year’s champ, actually, was Southern Tier’s 2xIPA. They made a strong showing again this year, along with the IPAs from Great Lakes and Rogue. But without question, this year’s winner was Milkman Brewing’s Peppercorn Rye Ale. Having sampled over a dozen beers after visiting the Milkmen’s table and letting a week slip by before writing this article, I wish I could give you an accurate description of the winning beer. Suffice to say that it was bold without overpowering, strong enough to be noticed in a sea of IPAs, but complex enough to delight the tongue. I certainly would take any opportunity for a second taste.
What made Milkman Brewing’s victory all the more impressive is knowing that at present the brewery consists of four individuals who are essentially home brewers. Milkman Brewing is not currently a commercial enterprise, though you can help change that. The Milkmen (and Milklady) are running a Kickstarter to get their operation off the ground. At time of publishing they have 50 days left to reach their goal and are going strong at just over 25% funded. They still need your support though. IPTB has already pledged $30 to help ensure that we’ll have a reliable source for that fantastic Peppercorn Ale and you should do the same.
Overall, despite crowds and loud country music, the 2011 Brewfest was a fantastic event. Anything that puts good beer in the hands of people who truly enjoy it can’t help but result in a good time. Not to mention the heap of money and food that was donated to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. If you have an opportunity to attend next year, do so. And make sure to put up the extra $10 for the VIP pass.
In the mean time, check out the rest of our photos below.
This past Saturday Shanna and I had the honor of serving as judges at the Pittsburgh Rugby Club’s annual Brewfest. (We’ll post more in-depth coverage in a day or two.) Almost 30 breweries came out, both local, national, and international. However, my top-rated beer and the winner of the festival came from right here in Pittsburgh. Milkman Brewing Company is currently a small homebrewing operation with dreams of becoming a small microbrewing operation. They’ve launched a Kickstarter to help defray their start-up costs, and are off to a solid start. But they still have a long way to go.
If this weekend was any indication, the Milkmen have the chops to create something very special and delicious here in Pittsburgh. All they need is a little help. There’s no minimum donation, but the more you give, the more swag you end up with. Check it out and hopefully we can get these guys – and one lady – off to a running start.
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.
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.
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).
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
We don’t often do restaurant reviews here at IPTB. In fact, the only booze-serving establishments we’ve ever reviewed were bars. (Pittsburgh Bars 2011 edition) But after enjoying an early dinner at Salt of the Earth in the Garfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh, we knew we had to write about them. And sure, we sat at the bar and chatted with the super-friendly and knowledgeable bartenders during our meal, and sure, the cocktail, beer, and wine lists comprise about half of the menu which covers an entire wall, but the emphasis is still on the food, which makes Salt of the Earth (or NACL for short, clever) one of the best places in Pittsburgh to get dinner and a drink.
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.
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
Here in Pennsylvania, state run liquor stores and restrictions on beer sales are familiar gripes. While nearly anywhere else in the country consumers are able to pick up a six-pack or bottle of wine at any grocery or convenience store, Pennsylvanians can only buy wine and liquor from state-run stores and beer has to be purchased by the case at a distributor, or by the six-pack at a bar or restaurant. Recently though, privatization of the state’s booze monopoly (hint hint, Parker Brothers) has become a hot issue in the state legislature and the blogosphere. As a conscientious and patriotic inebriate, I took it upon myself to learn more about the debate and the potential advantages/consequences of privatization.
It’s certainly no surprise that Shanna and I visit our fair share of bars. However, Pittsburgh being a college town (in parts) and a blue-collar town (in other parts), it’s sometimes difficult to find a bartender who’s accustomed to preparing drinks more complicated than 1) open beer 2) hand to customer. Shanna’s Note: Our friends Emily and Hawkeye would also suggest only “AND” drinks for these bars as well, i.e. rum and coke. UPDATE: The bar scene in Pittsburgh has improved dramatically since original publishing. For more info, see here.
But when we do come across a joint that fancies itself somewhat of a cocktail lounge, we have a bit of a preliminary test that we use to judge the bartender and the establishment. This test has (just now for the purposes of this article) been dubbed The Method.
The first step of The Method is to consult the menu. It’s not uncommon, even in the most reputable of establishments, to find a “Martini List” rather than a “Cocktail List.” There is only one Martini (gin and vermouth) with very few acceptable variations, more on this next. Everything else is a cocktail. However, since this is such a widespread error, it’s considered a minor infringement.
The next step is ordering, and the waiter/waitress/bartender’s reaction is what’s being watched. I order a Martini, my drink of choice and the gold standard for judging any bar. This order will invariably be followed by one or more of the following questions which I have categorized as acceptable or unacceptable. (Read more about what makes a Martini a Martini at our creatively titled article On Martinis.)
1) What brand of gin/vermouth?
2) Up or on the rocks?
3) Would you like olive, twist, or both (known as greedy)?
1) What kind of Martini? (Usually accompanied by a puzzled look, this generally means they think you’ve just walked in and said “Give me a cocktail.”)
2) Vodka or gin?
3) Occasionally a server will start to describe the items on their cocktail list. This again means they’ve confused the term “Martini” with “cocktail.”
Shanna, on the other hand, generally orders her drink of choice, The Sidecar. More often than not, a request for this classic cocktail is met with a pause followed by the question, “What’s in that?” The Sidecar is one of the great standby cocktails for the discerning boozehound and any bartender worth their tips should know how to make one. Extra points if they make it with Cointreau, and if the bartender uses fresh squeezed lemon juice, that alone is worth double tip and a pat on the back.
Once you’ve ordered, it’s time to go back to that cocktail list and begin the real scrutiny. For every classic cocktail present (French 75, Firefly, Peg O’ My Heart, etc.) the bar earns one point. For every cocktail that’s based on some variety of commercial flavored vodka (Cranberry-Sour-Apple-Why-Doesn’t-Daddy-Love-Me-tini) deduct one point. Points can be awarded at your discretion for tasty concoctions of the bartender’s own invention, assuming they don’t fall into the previous category. (The Harris Grill in Shadyside, while a bit pricey, is particularly noteworthy in this category with drinks that include homemade bacon-infused vodka. The distinction between over-sweetened commercial flavored vodkas and homemade infused spirits cannot be stressed enough.)
From here, the usual considerations can be applied such as price, quality of service, food, etc. Everyone has their own little pet peeves that should be taken into account. One of mine is that most bartenders will shake a drink, regardless of how it’s supposed to be prepared. It looks cooler and puts on a show, but for any drink without fruit juice or dairy it’s just diluting the spirits.
But by far the most egregious violation I have ever witnessed by an alcohol-serving establishment was at Tusca, a tapas restaurant at the Southside Works. Upon reviewing the “Martini List” I was slightly miffed at the absence of an actual Martini, though this is sadly not uncommon. And then I saw it. Bombay Sapphire Gin with Martini & Rossi Dry Vermouth and three stuffed olives, listed in the menu as a “Stuffed Up.” Someone had decided that to put a Martini on their “Martini List” would run the risk of confusing their customers, and had therefore taken it upon themselves to rename the most classic and iconic of all alcoholic beverages. I was dumbfounded. I wanted to order it, but I didn’t know how. Eventually, when the waitress returned, I held the menu up to her, pointed to the offending cocktail and said, “I want a Martini.” She looked confused. I repeated, “I want a Martini. Dry.” If I ever return to that establishment, it will be to make a toast to their “going out of business” sign. Update: After being shut down in mid-2011 for a disturbingly extensive rodent infestation, Tusca briefly re-opened before the owners filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and shut down permanently. I’ll drink to that.
So there you have it, the official boozehound’s guide to judging a bar. Use it in good health (make sure to eat your veggies, many of them come in the form of garnishes), good spirits (top-shelf preferred), and good company. It may just inspire you to drink at home more often.