I’ve been on a tour of East Coast whiskey distilleries the past two weekends. Okay, not really. I’ve been traveling for other reasons, and just managed to fit in visits to two distilleries while I was there. Nice work, if you can get it.
While visiting New York City for some friends’ birthdays, my cocktail-making husband, MixMasterRhead, and I took a tour of the New York Distilling Company in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The best part—it was a free tour with samples of most of their products at the end!
New York Distilling Company opened on December 5, 2011—an auspicious day because it was the 78th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. The distillery, barrel room, warehouse, and tasting room are all under one roof in their Brooklyn headquarters. The tasting room is actually a full-service bar called The Shanty. We stopped in just to have their Tot & Tonic (recommended by a friend), but ended up taking the tour when we found out it was free and starting momentarily. It was a good decision.
NYDC currently produces an American Gin ( Dorothy Parker), a Navy Strength (the aforementioned Perry’s Tot), a Rock & Rye (more on that in a moment), a New Netherland Gin (Chief Gowanus, a hybrid of gin and whiskey), and an American Straight Whiskey (Ragtime Rye).
Until touring NYDC, I had never had Rock & Rye. It’s rye whiskey sweetened by rock candy and often citrus peels and spices. It can be used in cocktails (add some bitters and garnish, and you basically have an Old Fashioned), but it’s also practically a cocktail itself, straight from the bottle. NYDC’s version uses rock candy, sour cherries, cinnamon, and citrus. It’s goooood.
Sadly, at the moment, you can only get your hands on NYDC products in New York (mostly NYC, but they have some upstate retailers as well). So unless you live in NY or know someone who’s visiting soon, you’ll have to wait until they pump up their distribution network. If you have the chance to visit the distillery, or even just The Shanty, I highly recommend it. Their cocktails are delicious!
Then, while in Pittsburgh for my brother Matt’s wedding last weekend, we squeezed in a visit to Wigle Whiskey (it’s pronounced “wiggle,” despite the lack of a second “g”). Given the number of wedding-related activities we had scheduled, we only had a small window on Friday for whiskey-tasting, which ruled out a tour. Wigle does only private tours on Fridays, for groups of 12 or more. The price is hefty ($60/person) but includes a bottle of whiskey or gin. On Saturdays you can join a public tour for $20-25, which includes a cocktail to start and a tasting at the end.
We settled for just ordering flights in their tasting room, located in the Strip District. (For those of you not from Pittsburgh, it’s not called the Strip District because there are a lot of strip clubs. It’s because it was formerly a site for strip-mining coal. Now it’s hipster-central, kind of like a mini-Brooklyn.)
MixMasterRhead, my two brothers, and I each ordered a different flight so we could try as many different products as possible. Our whiskey guide, Jill, gave us a brief rundown of Wigle and the various spirits. The Experimental Flight is pretty interesting–it allows you to taste some things that they’re playing around with and haven’t started bottling or selling yet.
I had the aged flight, and my favorites were the Organic Straight Wheat Whiskey and the East End Barleywine Barrel Aged Gin. The Organic Straight Rye Whiskey was a real barn-burner until I calmed it down with a few drops of water, and the Organic Pennsylvania Bourbon was quite good too. After our flights, we enjoyed a cocktail. I highly recommend the Duke of Earl–very refreshing.
Pittsburgh has a long history with whiskey. You may remember a little something called The Whiskey Rebellion from history class. Yeah, that was us. Wigle was founded in December 2011 (popular month for distilleries) and opened to the public in March 2012. Wigle is family-owned and -operated, and they use local, organic grains and ingredients. In addition to the spirits, they make their own line of bitters, as well as whiskey-barrel-aged coffee!
You can currently buy Wigle products at the distillery, through the state-run PA Wine & Spirits website, or they ship throughout Pennsylvania and (weirdly) to DC.
Oh, and by the way, September is Bourbon Heritage Month, so kick back with a Bourbon and call it celebrating a holiday! (And if, like my brother Doug, you think I have “some special booze-hound calendar” to let me know about these things, you’ll enjoy this article.)