Shortly after the United States was born, Western Pennsylvania became infamous as the center of the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion against federal taxes on distilled spirits to pay for Revolutionary War debt. The region was home to more than a quarter of the young country’s distilleries.
More than two centuries later, as the U.S. enjoys a resurgence of small “craft” distilleries, the Pittsburgh area once again is an important player. We now have several interesting and award-winning distilleries, including the first one since Prohibition, Pennsylvania Pure Distilleries in Shaler, which in 2008 started making Boyd & Blair Vodka. (It’s not open to the public, but you can arrange group tours and can buy the vodka and rum at state stores.) We also have Wigle Whiskey, as Pittsburgh Distilling Co. is known, which opened in the Strip District in 2011, named for one of the men convicted of treason for his role in the Whiskey Rebellion and sentenced to hang (but later pardoned by George Washington).
After a change in state law in 2012 that allows distilleries to sell spirits on site, the way wineries can sell their wine, the pace picked up and by the middle of this year, there were nearly 60 limited distilleries licensed in Pennsylvania and most were federally licensed to operate. Two new distilleries opened at this end of the state this summer, and more are on the way.
For instance, in Washington, Pa. — the seat of the county where many of the tax protesters (the Mingo Creek Society) lived — Jim and Ellen Hough plan to open Mingo Creek Craft Distillers late this year or early next. (68 W. Maiden St., Washington, PA 15301. Follow their progress at mingocreekcraftdistillers.com.) Washington is where you can celebrate the local flavor of once-famous Monongahela rye and other aspects of that heritage at the Whiskey Rebellion Festival (whiskeyrebellionfestival.com) that’s held each July.
Not far away, West Overton Village & Museums in Scottdale, Westmoreland County, where in the early 1900s Old Farm Pure Rye was made, is applying to again distill rye whiskey and meanwhile is planning a small regional whiskey festival this fall (109 W. Overton Road, Scottdale, PA 15683; westovertonvillage.org; 724-887-7910).
February of next year is the planned opening for Port of Pittsburgh Distillery at 2517 Penn Ave. in the Strip District. Founder and distiller Blake Ragghianti is having a still custom-built in Germany and working on branding and federal licensing now, and while he can’t say what spirits he intends to make, “It’s going to be a little different certainly than other things happening in the area.”
In the meantime, you can partake of tours and tastes and buy local spirits at several places across the region, including some you may not have heard about:
Ridge Runner Distillery
417 Fayette Springs Road
Farmington, PA 15421
This distillery was just opened in July by vintner Christian W. Klay as an extension of the family winery across the street. Mr. Klay says it’s open for sales and tastings noon-6 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday and 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with tours by appointment “for now.”
Ridge Runner is starting with two products — a 100-proof unaged corn whiskey (moonshine) made from corn grown locally at Weatherbury Farms and a vodka blended with water from Fayette Springs. “We are working on several other flavors such as an apple pie moonshine and raspberry vodka that will come out in the next few months, and we are also partnering with the winery to make grappa and brandy.”
1140 Kiester Road
Slippery Rock, PA 16057
This “farm distillery” opened in mid-June in Butler County. It started by making moonshine — unaged whiskey — that it will be offering in several flavors, and it’s adding other spirits. First up is a rum and there’s rye in half-barrels that should be ready next summer, says distiller and co-owner Mark Alexander. You can tour whenever it’s open — 2-8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 2-10 p.m. Friday and noon-10 p.m. Saturday
30 S. Main St.
Homer City, PA 15748
This distillery opened in a former grocery store on Main Street in this little Indiana County town in December 2014. Like most, it started with unaged “white” spirits such as vodka and brandies, but this year it has started barrel-aging its first bourbon and rye, some of which could be available this winter. “We’re trying to make a whiskey as close to the Western Pennsylvania Monongahela rye as possible,” said director of operations Jordan Guinn as he led a recent tour. Tours are offered at 1 and 2 p.m. Saturdays, and the distillery store is open noon-9 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, noon-11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2-7 p.m. Sunday (the store self-distributes its products). On the first Friday of each month, the bar is open 7-9 p.m. so patrons can enjoy drinks with live music and local art, and it’s open for other events as well. This summer, it released a new Cherry Whiskey ($38, the distillery’s most expensive product).
120 Willow Run Drive
Kane, PA 16735
Opened in April 2014, this distillery has a bar (crafted from cherry and red oak from the local forest) that serves drinks and bites. It is open for tours, tastings and purchases 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday. It makes vodka, gin and white whiskey, which are available via broker C.G. Simmons.
93 Blackout Alley (at 2687 Maplevale Road)
Brookville, PA 15825
Opened in March 2014, this hillbilly-themed distillery makes moonshine in many flavors, including hot cinnamon and chocolate banana as well as a barrel-aged bourbon, that range in price from $33 to $40 for 750 milliliters (and some come in jars half that size). Open daily: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. It also sells smoked meats and cheeses, canned pepper mixes, BBQ and wing sauces.
Maggie’s Farm Rum
3212A Smallman St.
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Technically Allegheny Distilling, this Strip District maker calls itself “America’s most awarded rum distillery” thanks to a string of big wins this year including an American Craft Spirits Association gold medal and best of class for Maggie’s Farm Queen’s Share Double Barrel. It also was named Pennsylvania Distillery of the Year at the New York International Spirits Competition in 2014, a year after it started production. Earlier this summer, it nearly tripled production capacity with the acquisition of a new, much larger Spanish-made still.
Maggie’s Farm is open for bottle sales 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday. You can sit at the bar (opened in January 2014) and enjoy cocktails 4-10 p.m. Friday and noon-10 p.m. Saturday.
Earlier this summer, the distillery released a single-barrel rum ($33.50 for a 750-milliliter bottle). You also can purchase its rums at state stores.
2401 Smallman St.
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Wigle Barrelhouse and Whiskey Garden
1055 Spring Garden Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Wigle Whiskey (Pittsburgh Distilling Co.) offers tons of public and private events at its main distillery in the Strip District, where tasting hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Public and private tours are available ($20-$25, including a cocktail and seated tasting). On Saturdays, you also can tour the Wigle Barrelhouse and Whiskey Garden on the North Side (opened in 2014), where tasting hours, in season, are 5-9 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 3-9 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Those $20 tours include a barrel-aged cocktail in the Whiskey Garden, tastes of five other spirits and a good dose of Whiskey Rebellion history.
The distillery produces a wide range of spirits ranging from whiskeys and gins to a honey spirit (between a brandy and a rum) that it calls Landlocked. The only aged whiskey that wasn’t sold out at the distillery store earlier this summer was Wry Rebellion ($50 for a 750-milliliter bottle). You also can purchase the products at state stores.
This maker of moonshine in more than a dozen flavors is shooting to open in October, says co-owner Keith Welch. Hours will be 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 1-8 p.m. Sunday.
Conneaut Cellars Winery
12005 Conneaut Lake Road (US Route 6 and state Route 322)
Conneaut Lake, PA 16316
814-382-3999 or 877-ccw-wine
This winery, which has two stills, just released its first spirits — a white brandy called Cussewago Blanc ($31.95 for a 750-milliter bottle) and a Crooked Creek Vodka that’s made from local Catawba grapes ($34.95 for 750 milliliters). Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (except on some holidays). Owner Joal Wolf says the brandy is the first local distilled spirit since Prohibition and the vodka is the first ever in this region. “Within five years, we will have rye whiskey and bourbon whiskey available.” Also aging fruit brandy in Pennsylvania and French oak barrels.
In Clarion County, Foxburg Wine Cellars doesn’t have a distillery license, but it distills wine spirits to fortify several flavors of wines it calls “wineshines” (open daily noon-8 p.m. May to September at 65 Main St., Parker, PA 16049; foxburgwine.com; 724-659-0021).
Just over the border in New York is that state’s first combination winery, distillery and brewery: Five & 20 Spirits & Brewing and Mazza Chautauqua Cellars (8398 W. Main Road/Route 20, Westfield, NY 14787). Open for tastings and tours daily. September to June hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. It makes bourbon and rye ($49.95, white whiskey and rye) as well as limoncello and bierschnapps; Mazza makes various flavors of eau de vies and grappa. Learn more at fiveand20.com (716-793-9463).
Bob Batz Jr.: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.