Pittsburgh’s Wigle Whiskey recently released a pair of straight whiskey expressions. Wigle Straight Rye Whiskey and Wigle Straight Wheat Whiskey are each sold in 750 ML size bottles, come with a 3-year age statement and were matured in standard 55-gallon sized barrels.
By law, “Straight” whiskies are made from at least 51% of the predominant grain (rye and wheat, respectively), and aged for at least two years. Wigle’s straight whiskey collection stands out in that neither expression contains corn in the mashbill.
As a distillery, Wigle is known for turning a trait that is often seen as a flaw for a whiskey producer — inconsistency – into a strength. That is the case for this growing distillery’s most recent expressions, which are the contents of a single barrel.
“Our mash bills change from batch to batch according to the grains we get in,” said Wigle co-owner Meredith Grelli during an interview last week. “We work with all local farmers and the quality of the grain changes from season to season, so we alter the grains each season to highlight” the best available grains at any given moment.
This approach, Grelli argued, is the spirit of Monongahela Whiskey – a storied but often forgotten American Whiskey category whose history dates back even farther than bourbon.
Pittsburgh was the edge of frontier country in the 1700s. In fact, Lewis and Clark’s famed expedition set out from Pittsburgh – the edge of Western civilization at the time. Colonial America preferred rum. But out on the frontier, rum was a luxury most could not afford due to the cost of shipping across rugged terrain. Farmers in these areas – among them Scotch-English and Irish colonists – had a history in distilling whiskey.
Western Pennsylvanians living in the Monongahela River Valley were some of the first Americans to distill whisky. And this whisky instantly stood out from its counterparts in Europe. Instead of being made from barley, farmers used whatever was available — most often using the hearty rye grain that could withstand the frontier climate.
Enough of the history lesson.
In addition to being in the heartland of Monongahela Whisky’s historical footprint, Wigle’s production methods have other similarities as well. For their straight whiskeys, single-barrel batch sizes meant every batch has a slightly different profile – just as you would find with frontier farmer-distillation 250-odd years ago.
As for why they chose to release Straight Rye and Straight Wheat expressions, the rationality wasn’t purely historic.
“The reason we do rye and wheat is that they are very complimentary to each other,” Grelli said. “Rye is big, rich and spicy – like t the original Monongahela rye was. [Wheat is] delicate and approachable. When we highlight those qualities in the whiskey then we find that the whisky really speaks to two different sensibilities and palates.
“Those who are into wheated bourbon or Irish whiskey can get into wheat, which is drier than bourbon. People looking for impact and spice and earth would be into the rye,” Greilli said.
The Wigle Straight Whiskey line is the most recent offering from the 4-year-old distillery. Other offerings include Bourbon, Deep Cut Rye, Rye, Wheat and Rye Rebellion whiskeys as well as white whiskey, aged and unaged gin and ginever, a honey-based spirit, a line of bitters as well as seasonal and one-time special releases. Nearly all of the products are certified organic and made from local ingredients.
“Every single product we take from raw ingredient to finished product. So we never have and never will purchase anything but whole grains. We mill on site and ferment, distill, barrel and proof every single drop.
“[We oversee] every piece of the process and are completely 100% devoted to that. We believe very firmly that is the role of craft distillers. We call it ‘seed to snifter’ distillation,” Grelli said.
Perhaps as a result, Wigle is growing. In addition to their Strip District distillery, they recently opened a North Side barrel warehouse and tasting room.
Wigle whiskies are available in Pennsylvania (a control state) through the state-owned Wine & Spirits stores. In addition, Web sales are available to Pennsylvania and DC residents and distribution is available in eight other states. More information can be found at www.wiglewhiskey.com.