Spirt of Philadelphia First Friday 2017 Leaderboard

Wigle Whiskey: Pennsylvania's Rebellious New Spirit

A family endeavor, from mill to bottle
by Drew Lazor on Jun 20, 2012 in Liquor

Pennsylvania’s whiskey-making scene has become increasingly white in the past year — Philadelphia Distilling Co. dropped its 100 percent corn XXX Shine, Bristol-based Dad’s Hat released a 100 proof white rye. And in March 2012, a startup way across the state joined its clear-hooch cohorts in reviving the relevance of unaged spirits: Pittsburgh’s Wigle Whiskey, a fledgling family-run operation with a colorful backstory to counter its colorless booze.

The western part of the Commonwealth, in many ways, is the holy land of American whiskey. It’s where agriculturally gifted European immigrants established distilling as a domestic specialty, creating the in-demand style known as “Monongahela rye.” Whiskey production here enjoyed fetterless progress until the final decade of the 18th century, when then-Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton took a number of measures to eliminate federal debt — among them instituting an excise tax on scratch-made spirits.

Reactionary unrest to this way-unpopular decision, of course, led to the infamous Whiskey Rebellion, a blow-up that kicked off stateside distilling’s inexorable shift south, to Kentucky and Tennessee. Named for Philip Wigle, a farmer who became a figurehead of the Rebellion, Wigle Whiskey aims to re-establish spiritcraft in Allegheny County, once the jewel of the richest rye-making region in the nation.

“Wigle, like all of his neighbors, was using his rye grains to make whiskey because it was the most profitable thing he could with what he was growing,” says Wigle co-founder Meredith Grelli of her distillery’s namesake. (Wigle, a German immigrant, likely pronounced his name Teutonically, with a V sound standing in for the W, but Grelli and Co. pronounce it “Wiggle.”)

On Christmas Day in Philadelphia in 1794, Wigle was convicted of treason and sentenced to the gallows for his role in the Rebellion, a charge George Washington would later reverse because POTUS 1.0 feared a martyr-sparked line-drawing clash within the state. Accordingly, Wigle’s white rye and white wheat bottles feature a frayed noose to denote the pardon. “It’s a hopeful noose, as these things go,” says Grelli.

With experience in urban redevelopment, brand management and beekeeping, the on-paper Grelli doesn’t immediately inspire thoughts of mash tuns and low wines, but neither do any of Wigle’s other principles. Brother Eric has worked in a number of microbreweries on the west coast and abroad. Father Mark was trial lawyer for almost 40 years before switching career paths to distilling. The hands making the hooch may be unorthodox, but the hooch itself is as old-school as it gets. Operating out of a space in the Steel City’s Strip District, Wigle mills grain, distills and bottles on-site, using local and organic raw product. “We know very few distilleries in the country that do it all this way,” says Grelli.

Their rye, an 80-proof take on the all-but-extinct Monongahela style, possesses a balanced, bready spice, a studied alternative to many of the oversize, capital-R ryes championed by two-fisted boozehounds and bartenders. (It produces an interestingly crisp Manhattan or Sazerac.) Wigle’s white wheat, meanwhile, is even more distinct, ripe, approachable notes of fruit and earth characterizing the all-too-uncommon style. “[Unaged is] how Wigle and Washington would have enjoyed their whiskey, and drinking these gives you a much fuller understanding of what whiskey’s made of,” says Grelli.

That’s not to say we won’t see barreled Wigle products down the line. The nascent operation is currently reserving half of its modest output for a line of brown liquor. For now, though, you can purchase Wigle’s white rye and white wheat through the PLCB’s online store for $31.99 a bottle.

Top photo by Drew Lazor; bottom photos via Wigle Whiskey on Facebook

Recent Articles
spacer

Feedback

How are we doing? Tell us what you like or don't like and how we can improve. We would love to hear your thoughts!

*Name:
*E-mail:
*Suggestions:
 
Get in Formation: A Beyonce-Themed Bar is Coming to Brooklyn

Get in Formation: A Beyonce-Themed Bar is Coming to Brooklyn

Starting on December 1, Brooklyn bar Leyenda will transform itself into a real-life Beyhive for the holidays in honor of Beyonce....read more ›

by The Drink Nation Nov 14, 2017
Deck Your Halls With These Whiskey-Filled Ornaments

Deck Your Halls With These Whiskey-Filled Ornaments

Forget the tinsel and string lights - the UK's Lakes Distillery has released a line of booze-filled ornaments just in time to make your holiday season...read more ›

by Jessie Donofrio Nov 14, 2017
SPONSORED
Skygarten Rectangle Ad
Where to Host a Private Event in Philadelphia

Where to Host a Private Event in Philadelphia

Whether it's for the holidays or you have a special birthday coming up, Philadelphia has some amazing options when it comes to event spaces. ...read more ›

by Drink Philly Nov 6, 2017
Nick Elmi's Royal Boucherie Is Now Open in Old City

Nick Elmi's Royal Boucherie Is Now Open in Old City

Nick Elmi, owner of ITV and Laurel in South Philly, has added another restaurant to his collection - Royal Boucherie in Old City. ...read more ›

by Drink Philly Nov 13, 2017
Behind the Bar: Maria Polise of Southwark

Behind the Bar: Maria Polise of Southwark

This week on Behind the Bar, we're talking to Maria Polise of Southwark, Queen Village's cocktail mainstay. ...read more ›

by Drink Philly Nov 13, 2017
Philadelphia Restaurants are Coming Together to Throw a Benefit for Bridget Foy's, November 15

Philadelphia Restaurants are Coming Together to Throw a Benefit for Bridget Foy's, November 15

After Bridget Foy's and its surrounding businesses were ravaged by a two-alarm fire in late October, the South...read more ›

by Drink Philly Nov 10, 2017
Han Dynasty to Host Wu Tang Beer Dinner, November 21

Han Dynasty to Host Wu Tang Beer Dinner, November 21

Back by popular demand is Han Dynasty's Wu Tang Beer Dinner, which will take place in Brooklyn on Monday, November 20 and in Philly on Tuesday, Novemb...read more ›

by Jessie Donofrio Nov 10, 2017
Jet Wine Bar is Celebrating 7 Years with a Week-Long Wine Event, November 10-16

Jet Wine Bar is Celebrating 7 Years with a Week-Long Wine Event, November 10-16

South Street's Jet Wine Bar is celebrating its 7th anniversary this November, and is marking the occasion with...read more ›

by Drink Philly Nov 10, 2017
Where to Celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau Day 2017 in Philadelphia, November 16

Where to Celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau Day 2017 in Philadelphia, November 16

This coming Thursday, November 16 marks the release of this year's batch of Beaujolais Nouveau....read more ›

by Drink Philly Nov 10, 2017
SPONSORED
View all Articles

Sign up to get weekly drinking news, bar reviews, events and more sent directly to your inbox!

Close