Spirits: Whiskey 101 -- a food-studies course

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Pittsburgh's Wigle Whiskey has found that, from conception through gestation to birth, the innovation cycle of a new product is somewhere between seven to 10 months. In other words, just about a full school year, or two full semesters.

Whiskey-Making 101, anybody?

"We thought a cool class would be a new product development course," said Meredith Grelli, co-owner and head of marketing and new products at the Strip District distillery.

Wigle had been in talks with Chatham University's food studies program about setting up some kind of for-credit internship at the distillery, but both parties agreed the internship route wouldn't be the best educational opportunity for students. Instead, Ms. Grelli and Chatham food studies program director Alice Julier developed a 26-week, two-semester course that will walk the students through every step of the process, from marketing to focus-group tasting panels to FDA requirements, culminating with a year-end launch party.

"They'll look at the market in a variety of different ways," said Ms. Grelli, who also worked in brand management at H.J. Heinz Co., and who will teach the class along with an assortment of food-industry guest lecturers. They'll "come up with product ideas. And then we will come to consensus on which ones we want to move forward with, costing [and] identifying different suppliers," and more.

It's not a hypothetical classroom exercise. The students, about 10 of them, will be working on a real product, which Wigle will bottle and sell sometime next year.

"This is our first foray in this direction," Ms. Julier said of the four-year-old food-studies program.

Graduate students who have matriculated through the program have apprenticed at Eat 'n Park and Boyd and Blair vodka, and have learned first-hand butchering at Jamison Farm in Latrobe. But this will be the first time students have a chance to build a brand-new product.

The food-studies program has an emphasis in "real-world applicability ... taking what they learn and immediately" putting it to use, she said. The Wigle course also will have elements of food science -- learning about fermentation and distillation, developing tinctures -- that fill a gap in the curriculum, in that the school does not have a stand-alone food-science program.

The science behind Wigle's products can be tricky.

"We keep doing these products that end up in this blurry, murky zone," Ms. Grelli said. Whiskey-based "rum," a variety of bitters, "all of that has taken a lot longer than we thought ... There's very little guidance" on how to bring such hybrid products to market, she said.

With more than a year under their belts, Ms. Grelli said she'd hoped her family would have gotten more efficient about bringing products to market. But no matter how quickly new ideas are generated, the product release still gets bogged down at the end of the development cycle by regulators.

For example, Wigle's new buckwheat honey rum, which has received formula approval, is still awaiting label approval, which should happen sometime this month. And if there are regulatory hold-ups in creating the new classroom product -- well, that's all part of the deal.

"They are truly going to be guiding this entire process," Ms. Grelli said. "This will be a lot of fun for us."

The Livermore, a cafe and cocktail bar being developed by the Bar Marco brain trust, should be open by mid-August at 124 S. Highland Ave.

The building, formerly East Liberty's quirky late-night Waffle Shop, is owned by property developer Eve Picker, who is a silent equity partner in the Livermore project. The bar will be inspected by the county health department and the PLCB in coming days, said Bobby Fry, co-owner and bartender, and should open shortly afterward.

The menu will focus on fresh lunch foods, such as salads and crostinis, prepped daily at Bar Marco (the Livermore does not have a restaurant kitchen, so much of the food will be sold out of a deli case). The bar will feature some absinthe drinks, and the Livermore will have absinthe paraphernalia -- an absinthe fountain, specialized glasses and spoons -- on hand.

Mr. Fry said the look of the place is somewhat inspired by Chicago cocktail bar Billy Sunday, whose centerpiece is a dark-wood bar dressed in subway-style ceramic tiles.

The cafe bar will be open Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., and will be open for brunch on Sunday. Mr. Fry, who worked on Wall Street in his pre-service industry days, said the bar is named after Jesse L. Livermore, a famous trader known as the "Great Bear of Wall Street."

Mr. Fry and Pittsburgh star-tender Sean Enright also are looking to open a high-end companion bar, called Poetry, possibly next door.

Now open: The Summit, on Shiloh Street in Mount Washington. Owners and barmen Daniel Peach and Logan Person gutted the interior of the former Havana Tapas and Wine Bar, moving the bar to the south side of the building and installing new taps. The skinny: A dozen draft beers, about 40 bottled beers, a few bottles of wine, and a rotating cast of featured sweet-side cocktails such as the frozen lychee (mint-infused rum, St. Germaine, lychee) and the peach bourbon (peach bitters, peach-infused bourbon).

The new rum and brandy distillery at 3212A Smallman St. -- Allegheny Distilling, going by the trade name Maggie's Farm -- has just received federal permit approval from the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, as well as a state operating permit, said Tim Russell, the owner of the distillery project and publisher of Craft Pittsburgh quarterly. He is still waiting on local permits regarding electrical, HVAC work (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), plumbing and restroom accessibility, before he can open to the public. Major demolition at the site is complete, and right now, he's having 150 feet of gas line installed to feed the burners that will heat the pot still.

He also has submitted label designs for federal approval. For updates, visit facebook.com/maggiesfarmrum/.

Liquor license news:

Downtown, there's a license pending for the building on the corner of Penn Avenue and 10th Street, going by the trade name of The Ten Club. The license is owned by the Desimone family, which also operates Steel Cactus and other restaurant properties, and they plan to open a "vintage" American-style restaurant at 210 10th St.

In the South Side, there's a new liquor license pending for the property now known as the InnTermission Lounge, at 1908 E. Carson St. The new license is owned by C-Mella LLC, according to PLCB records; that's the partnership that operates Jekyll & Hyde's, also in the South Side. Co-owner Carmella Salem said the new restaurant and lounge will feature gourmet American comfort food and signature cocktails, with about 20 beers on tap. They take over the bar at the end of August, and will spend the next several months renovating the property.

In Squirrel Hill, a liquor license is pending for 1936 Murray Ave., the address of the former My Little Outback, a cafe and indoor children's playground. The ownership group behind the Murray Avenue license is the same partnership that operates Brasserie 33 in Shadyside.

Liquor-license sales also are pending for the Shadyside Saloon along Ellsworth Avenue, Pittsburgh Cafe at 226 Meyran Ave., Oakland, and the Grill on Seventh, Downtown. Slice on Broadway, the popular Beechview pizza parlor, also is obtaining a liquor license.


Bill Toland: btoland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2625.


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