Chaddsford Winery Header

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:
 
The Shark Week Drinking Game

The Shark Week Drinking Game

This year, one of cable TV's longest-running programs celebrates its 28th anniversary. Enjoy it to the fullest with this handy game. Shark Week starts...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Jul 2, 2015
Independence Day 2015: Where to Celebrate July 4th in Philadelphia

Independence Day 2015: Where to Celebrate July 4th in Philadelphia

As the birthplace of our nation, Philadelphia is a fantastic place to celebrate America's birthday....read more ›

by Drink Philly Jul 1, 2015
Sat
Jul 11
Sun
Jul 12
Sun
Jul 12
SPONSORED
Perch Pub Brunch Rectangle
New Center City Beer Garden Opens Just in Time for Independence Day

New Center City Beer Garden Opens Just in Time for Independence Day

Philadelphia's business district is now home to the new Uptown Beer Garden. ...read more ›

by Drink Philly Jul 1, 2015
Varalli Restaurant to Serve Final Dinner Service on July 3

Varalli Restaurant to Serve Final Dinner Service on July 3

Varalli Restaurant will open at 4:30 PM daily through Friday, July 3....read more ›

by Drink Philly Jul 1, 2015
Best Bars For Outdoor Drinking in Philadelphia, 2015

Best Bars For Outdoor Drinking in Philadelphia, 2015

Whether it's to enjoy the first warm breezes of spring or the summer's sunshine, Philadelphia is full of great places to drink in the great outdoors....read more ›

by Drink Philly Apr 6, 2015
Join Us for Beers, Boats, & Fun at the Drink Philly Summer Boat Party, July 23

Join Us for Beers, Boats, & Fun at the Drink Philly Summer Boat Party, July 23

On Thursday, July 23, prepare to hoist anchor for a three-hour tour of crazy proportions. We'll sail down the ...read more ›

by Drink Philly Jul 1, 2015
Tall Ships Tavern Beer Garden Reopens for July 2 Fireworks

Tall Ships Tavern Beer Garden Reopens for July 2 Fireworks

Tall Ships Tavern Beer Garden will reopen this Thursday, July 2 for the waterfront fireworks at Penn's Landing. Admission is only $17, which gets you ...read more ›

by Drink Philly Jun 30, 2015
Philly's Finest Frozen Drinks to Cool off With This Summer

Philly's Finest Frozen Drinks to Cool off With This Summer

Cool off with some of our favorite boozy milkshakes, slushies, and other frozen treats this summer....read more ›

by Caroline Russock Jun 23, 2015
The Struggle Is Real When This Reporter Attempts to Run Her First Beer Mile
by The Drink Nation Jun 22, 2015
SPONSORED
View all Articles

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

Close