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:
 
2SP to Release Alternative Facts Blonde Stout

2SP to Release "Alternative Facts" Blonde Stout

Delaware County's 2SP Brewing has released 'Alternative Facts,' a blonde stout made with vanilla and coffee beans, throughout the Philadelphia area....read more ›

by Jessie Donofrio Mar 23, 2017
This Bartender Made Real-Life Versions of Cocktails from 'The Simpsons'

This Bartender Made Real-Life Versions of Cocktails from 'The Simpsons'

Have you ever dreamt of trying a cocktail only seen before in a cartoon, like the 'Flaming Homer' from The Sim...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Mar 23, 2017
Behind the Bar: Camille Ralph Vidal, Global Brand Ambassador for St. Germain

Behind the Bar: Camille Ralph Vidal, Global Brand Ambassador for St. Germain

In this installment of Behind the Bar, we were lucky enough to interview Madame St. Germain herself, Camille V...read more ›

by The Drink Nation Mar 23, 2017
SPONSORED
Skybrunch Rectanlge Ad
Things No One Asked For: Prosecco-Flavored Nail Polish

Things No One Asked For: Prosecco-Flavored Nail Polish

If you're the kind of alcoholic who needs to have booze on your person at all times, Groupon has just the product for you: prosecco-flavored nail poli...read more ›

by Ryan Hudak Mar 22, 2017
The Sobro Refrigerator Coffee Table Means You Never Need to Get Up Again

The Sobro Refrigerator Coffee Table Means You Never Need to Get Up Again

A recent IndieGoGo campaign has resulted in a coffee table with everything you could want: the Sobro Refrigera...read more ›

by Alexander Frane Mar 22, 2017
Check Out These Can't Miss Philly Wine Week Events, March 19-26

Check Out These Can't Miss Philly Wine Week Events, March 19-26

Philly Wine Week is in full swing from Sunday, March 19 through Sunday, March 26. Here are some of the can't miss events this week, featuring awesome ...read more ›

by Jessie Donofrio Mar 20, 2017
Drink Locally at the First Annual Pennsylvania Spirits Convention, March 23

Drink Locally at the First Annual Pennsylvania Spirits Convention, March 23

On Thursday, March 23, Philadelphians will have the chance to drink local at the first ever Pennsylvania Spiri...read more ›

by Drink Philly Mar 18, 2017
Cold Brew Hard Coffee is Coming to Stores in May

Cold Brew Hard Coffee is Coming to Stores in May

Soon, you'll be able to enjoy cold brew coffee with the alcohol percentage of a strong beer with Bad Larry's Cold Hard Coffee. ...read more ›

by Alexander Frane Mar 17, 2017
 The Rittenhouse Hotel & Lacroix are Hosting a Ruinart Champagne Dinner, March 23

The Rittenhouse Hotel & Lacroix are Hosting a Ruinart Champagne Dinner, March 23

Lacroix at the Rittenhouse Hotel, one of Philadelphia's premier fine-dining establishments, is hosting a Ruina...read more ›

by Drink Philly Mar 17, 2017
Enjoy All-American Spirits at the Pennsylvania Spirits Convention & the American Whiskey Convention, March 23 & 24

Enjoy All-American Spirits at the Pennsylvania Spirits Convention & the American Whiskey Convention, March 23 & 24

Philadelphia is welcoming two incredible spirit conventions back to back - specifically, the Pennsylvania Spir...read more ›

by Drink Philly Mar 17, 2017
SPONSORED
View all Articles

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

Close