Diana Nelson Jones’ Walkabout: Wigle Whiskey makes friends with its new Spring Garden Barrelhouse

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Noah Sweat, a Mississippi legislator, famously argued both sides of whiskey — that which leads to ruin and that which brings people together in good cheer, enables conversation, provides a diversion from rocky roads and, of course, rev­e­nue.

His 1952 speech is one of the best examples of how to see both sides of a controversial topic.

When Wigle [pronounced “wiggle”] Whiskey opened its Barrelhouse in an old produce warehouse at 1055 Spring Garden Ave. in Spring Garden on May 31, my first thought was “uh-oh.” Establishing 6,000 square feet of any­thing usu­ally prompts a lit­tle op­po­si­tion due to worries about traffic, parking and noise.

“We’ve had absolutely no push-back,” said Wes Shonk, Wigle’s historian and sales and service rep. “In fact, a neighbor offered his parking spot. People stop in to say hello. They tell us where the stores used to be and say they’re happy to see new life here.”

I walked the avenue and knocked on doors to find out if there was opposition. The neighborhood gave off vibes of having been evacuated. Two men on the street and a woman who answered her door said they had no gripes. I called Ber­nie Grady, president of the Community Alliance of Spring Garden / East Deutschtown.

“I haven’t heard anything negative and everybody has my phone number,” he said. “I think it’s a big plus for the neighborhood. I live two blocks from there and have been twice. It’s a destination.”

Spring Garden’s gracious reaction may point in part to its severe population decline since 2000. Maybe people think a little buzz in the neighborhood is kind of nice.

Wigle Whiskey opened its distillery in the Strip District in the fall of 2011. It was the first legal distillery in Pittsburgh in more than a century, and its mission was to bring back what had been a tradition older than steel.

Mr. Shonk said Monongahela Rye, which Wigle has imitated, was made locally from the 1700s to Prohibition. “It was the gold standard” in rye, he said. Wigle sells a variety of rye and wheat whiskey, gin and bitters. It has 100 restaurants among its clientele.

Its six owners — Meredith Grelli, her parents, two brothers and her husband — invested half a million dollars in the Barrelhouse. Hours are 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday, noon to 9 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sun­day.

“We looked for six months, and this site served all of our interests,” including community development, Ms. Grelli said. “At 600 barrels, we were running out of room” in the Strip.

“The Strip [location] has been wonderful because that’s a regional destination,” she said. “But for the satellite location we wanted to be integrated into the neighborhood.”

The Barrelhouse has live music through the summer. The garden’s picnic tables and chairs are open to anyone. Saturday tours can be reserved at www.wiglewhiskey.com.

On Thursday nights, Wigle donates space for three hours to any community organization who books it and 12 percent of the proceeds from that night to the organization, said Brittany Thorp, Wigle’s event plan­ner.

This Saturday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., the Barrelhouse is holding its own fundraiser to benefit the Deutschtown Music Festival. On June 29, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., it is opening its doors to North Siders, inviting them to “come with the family, bring a picnic and play lawn games,” Ms. Thorp said.

The picnic is an event of the Buhl Foundation’s North Side census project.

The Strip distillery also holds tours and Bantam Night fundraisers. During one of those, Ms. Grelli said, “someone made a noise complaint and it wasn’t even 9 o’clock.”

“The Strip is becoming so much more residential. I can’t imagine that happening two years ago.”

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.

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