Life is full of memorable firsts: your first kiss, your first time behind the wheel, your first heartbreak, your first hangover… your first taste straight from a whiskey still.
True, my whiskey example is far less common than the rest of the list of firsts, but it’s a strong memory. I owe this jolting first to Wigle Whiskey (which I have mentioned here and there on my little corner of the blogosphere). I had the opportunity to tour their flagship location when it first opened. So consumed with enthusiasm was I, I failed to put two and two together: oak = flavor, copper stills = white whiskey.
Expecting that copper color and spicy oak flavor, I licked the miniscule droplet on my finger. The intense grain flavor kicked me in the face, the throat and the wind pipe and has not escaped my hippocampus, amygdala and all those other wrinkles of the brain where memories ricochet.
Starting a whiskey distillery is a lot like planting a seed. The shade and the oaky flavor linger far in the future, but the tree-hugger and the whiskey enthusiast invest nonetheless. As the Wigle crew nurtured their seedlings, their barrel collection grew and grew. It became clear, they would need a larger grove. Fates seemed to align, and they found a location with the potential for barrel storage, whiskey evangelism, and the nation’s first whiskey garden… à la the Wigle Whiskey Barrelhouse!
The Barrelhouse uses a similar design vocabulary as their Strip District location, including its bright colors, clean aesthetic and modern materials, but the tour content is unique to this venue, and it’s worth a separate trip.
In Wigle’s words, on the Barrelhouse tour, you’ll learn how Pittsburgh Whiskey dominated American whiskey production until Prohibition and fueled the steel industry as well as the science behind barrels’ impact on spirits, ie: step aside Kentucky and Tennessee. Here we come!
Who knew Henry Clay Frick’s capitalist side was reared in the whiskey industry? It was amidst his family’s stills where he first determined to make millions. On one hand, he was an inspirational fella. On the other, he was a cog in the wheel of a terrible era in labor relations. Throw some romance into this plot line, and you have the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. Yet, the Barrelhouse tour was the first time I had ever heard any of this story.
Interspersed with the tale of whiskey and forbidden love, we learned about Wigle’s various processes to age whiskey, as well as develop new flavor profiles and techniques. The second floor is a whiskey lab of sorts, where honeycombed wood steeps whiskey, where glass bottles lead to “guess that flavor compound,” and where whiskey enthusiasts go to spend their days happily ever after.
After the ups and downs, twists and turns of the historical tale, we settled into the whiskey tasting. I should mention I was nursing a delightful cocktail for the duration of the tour, so I recommend arriving fed and hydrated, lest you be a lightweight like me.
Not only did Wes explain the differences and flavor profiles in what we were tasting, but he explained a technique for how best to sniff and sip. I’ll keep you in suspense, but know this, it worked! You’ll just have to take the tour to advance to my new snob level of drinking. I’ll see you on the other side.
After the tour, the Urban Farmer and I snacked and sipped in the garden, where my little Nebraska-born heart was thrilled to see corn growing! One of the reasons I support Wigle is their commitment to support local and organic agricultural practices. They use local, organic grains (which obviously makes my heart swoon) and local honey in their version of rum, and that seems to be just the beginning. As the garden grows and expands, I’m excited to see what new concoctions they will develop. When warmer weather returns, I also look forward to spending time in their garden. Any place that welcomes a BYO-Picnic plan definitely works its way into my heart.
I came, I saw, I sampled, and most importantly, I did not leave empty handed. Stay tuned as I find more ways to work Wigle products into my life.