Spirits: First-ever Pittsburgh Cocktail Week is set

Start with an emerging drinks scene, mix with an enthusiastic stable of bartenders and distillers, garnish with some interesting seminars, shake vigorously -- it's the recipe for the first-ever Pittsburgh Cocktail Week.

"This seemed like the right time," said Will Groves, the bar manager at Legume and its new evenings-only sister bar, Butterjoint. "We've very much reached a critical mass of cocktail bars and interested businesses in Pittsburgh."

Mr. Groves, along with drinks photographer Michael Basista and new-to-Pittsburgh liquor importer Rob McCaughey, are the trio planning Pittsburgh Cocktail Week, which, if it becomes a regular event, will join Pittsburgh Restaurant Week (August) and Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week (April) on the annual foodie calendar.

Mr. Groves, who worked events as an "apprentice" bartender at the annual Tales of the Cocktail convention in New Orleans this year, said that while his event may draw comparisons to other such weeks (like Oregon's infamous Portland Cocktail Week), Pittsburgh Cocktail Week does not intend to be a center-of-the-booze-universe bacchanal.

Not yet, anyway.

"We want it to be Pittsburgh-focused," from the lecturers on down to the drinks themselves, he said. The week's centerpiece contest is a cocktail competition in which each participating bar creates a Pittsburgh-themed cocktail, with local ingredients whenever possible. Through a smartphone app, being developed by Rhomania (a local tech firm that builds interactive menus and other service-industry apps), visitors will be able to vote on their favorite cocktail.

At least 20 bars will be participating in the weeklong contest. The usual suspects will be involved -- Tender, Bar Marco, Tamari, Industry Public House, Harvard and Highland, and others -- but Mr. Groves said he and the rest of the planners hope to recruit a few "off-the-beaten-path" bars that aren't yet known for their cocktails.

"We're trying to cultivate as much involvement as we're able," both from bars, as well as bartenders themselves, those who are tentative about cocktails but want to learn more.

And before you ask -- no, there will not be a surprise appearance from Squirrel Hill-born spirits writer and renowned cocktail historian David Wondrich.

But "he's excited to come for 2014," Mr. Groves said.

The lineup thus far:

• Monday, Sept. 16: Tequila Classes at Verde. The industry class is at noon, the open-to-the-public seminar starts at 7 p.m.

• Tuesday, Sept. 17: Ice carving and shaping at the Livermore. Industry class at noon, public at 7 p.m.

• Wednesday, Sept. 18: Wigle Whiskey aging seminar for industry professionals at noon, whiskey tasting at 7 p.m., both events at the Wigle distillery. At Bar Marco, there's a service-industry mixer at 10 p.m.

• Thursday, Sept. 19: Flair bartending with Mike Mills of Meat and Potatoes, at Bar Marco; industry professionals only, at noon. In the evening, a seminar involving Boyd & Blair vodka is being planned.

• Friday, Sept. 20: Johnny Foster of The Artful Drinker, a service-industry marketing firm, on craft spirits, at 12:30 p.m., location to be announced.

• Saturday, Sept. 21: Will Groves of the Butterjoint on shrubs and preserving, 12:30 p.m., location to be determined. In the evening, Bill Larkin, owner of Arsenal Cider House will co-host a seminar on cider cocktails at 7 p.m., Benjamin's, 900 Western Ave.

• Sunday, Sept. 22: Wrap Party at The Omni William Penn's downstairs Speakeasy.

Other events are still being planned and will be added to the schedule in the next few weeks. Check pghcocktailweek.com for updates.

Finally, beer is coming back to Iron City Brewery.


In the distant future.

For now, the liquor license attached to the site will be held in safe-keeping, meaning it's not an active license. But according to the PLCB, the developers of the vacant 10-acre Iron City Brewery site in Lawrenceville, called Collier Development LLC, have a restaurant liquor license pending for one of the buildings on Liberty Avenue, known as Building T, also known as the Uber Brewhouse, at the Sassafras Street intersection.

Collier Development, owned by Jack and James Cargnoni, bought the site in 2012, and hopes to turn the old brewery into a $100-million apartment, office, hotel and dining complex. Matthew Galluzzo, Lawrenceville Corp. executive director, said no bars or restaurants are imminent for the site.

The Cargnonis are transferring the unused license from their property at 1807 Penn Ave.

In Westfield, N.Y. (about 30 miles east of Erie), Mazza Vineyards has opened its own craft distillery, under the brand Five and 20 Spirits. The company is issuing bourbons and ryes this summer; they're calling it a "grain to glass" operation, meaning they grow some of their own grains for the distilling. The whiskey is named after nearby highways, Routes 5 and 20, which run through upstate New York and the Finger Lakes.

While the distillery is in New York, Mazza is headquartered in Pennsylvania. For more information on the distillery, visit facebook.com/fiveand20.

Whole Foods has applied for liquor licenses for its Shadyside store and its yet-unbuilt Upper St. Clair location. The McCandless location, which opened last year, already has a license for its "Brew & Brau" organic coffee bar and pub.

Also, the PLCB announced last week that it's seeking new retail space in order to relocate one of its Westmoreland County stores. The existing store, at 310 Main St. in Irwin, will close next year. The PLCB is looking to build a new, larger store somewhere along Route 30 in North Huntingdon township, west of Irwin.

Wigle Whiskey is launching its collection of small-batch, organic bitters on Sept. 13 (the first two varieties are "aromatic" and "rosemary lavender"). The release party, to be held at the Strip District distillery, will feature cocktails developed by Meat & Potatoes (Downtown) and Social (Bakery Square, in Larimer); tickets are $20.

Bill Toland: btoland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2625. For spirits news, @btoland_PG on Twitter.


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