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Susan's Travels Tours + Trips
December 07, 2013, 05:00 AM By Susan Cohn Daily Journal

PITTSBURGH WHISKEY KEEPS HISTORY FROM BEING A DRY SUBJECT. Meredith Grelli, co-owner of Wigle Whiskey in Pittsburgh, Pa., tells of the Whiskey Rebellion during tours of the one-year-old Wigle distillery, the first to open in Pittsburgh since Prohibition. Grelli stands in front of a traditional copper pot still.

WHISKEY MAKES NEWS IN PITTSBURGH ... AGAIN: WHISKEY MAKING, AND TASTING, IN THE HEART OF WHISKEY REBELLION COUNTRY. It’s been centuries since the Whiskey Rebellion shook up Western Pennsylvania, but listening to Meredith Grelli tell the history of American Whiskey makes those long-ago events come vividly to life. Grelli is co-owner of Wigle Whiskey, an artisan, small batch whiskey distillery in the Strip District of Pittsburgh. When it opened in 2012, Wigle Whiskey became the first new distillery in that city since Prohibition. In her hour-long tours, Grelli explains the process of turning organic, local grain into full flavored white whiskey. Her entertaining talk deftly blends whiskey knowledge and Whiskey Rebellion lore.

HOW DID WIGLE WHISKEY GET ITS NAME? The company is named after Philip Wigle, a key figure in the Whiskey Rebellion. Grelli said: “We pronounce Wigle like the word “wiggle,” because it rolls off the tongue nice and easy. When Wigle was alive, he likely would have pronounced his name with a “V” and hard “i” sound. No matter how you’re saying it, it’s probably closer to the actual proper pronunciation of his name than how we say Wigle.”

WHAT IS THE CONNECTION BETWEEN PITTSBURGH AND WHISKEY? Grelli said: “Pittsburgh is the birthplace of American Whiskey; Western Pennsylvania was Kentucky before Kentucky existed. At the height of whiskey making in Western Pennsylvania, there were 4,000 documented stills. By 1850 the Pittsburgh region was producing half a barrel’s worth of whiskey for every man, woman and child living in America. If you were drinking in America in the 1700 through the late 1800s, you were likely drinking Pittsburgh Rye Whiskey. It was called Monongahela Rye and Pittsburgh was known all over the world for the quality of our Rye Whiskey.”

WHAT WAS THE WHISKEY REBELLION? The Whiskey Rebellion was a tax protest that began in 1791 when farmers who made whiskey were forced to pay a new tax on their product. Grelli said: “Whiskey was so central to the lives of the people who lived here in Pittsburgh in the 1700s that they became incensed when the first excise tax levied in the US singled out whiskey distillers.” The farmers who resisted, many of them Revolutionary war veterans, contended that they were fighting taxation without local representation; the newly formed Federal government maintained that the tax was imposed legally. Events escalated until, in 1794, 500 armed men attacked the Pittsburgh home of tax inspector John Neville and burned it to the ground. At this point troops were sent to quell the violence.

HOW WAS PHILIP WIGLE INVOLVED? Grelli said, “Our namesake, Philip Wigle, got into trouble when he demanded from a local tax collector his list of all documented stills in the region. This tussle led to the Whiskey Rebellion, which pitted Pittsburgh distillers against 13,000 troops led to town by President George Washington.” As the army neared Pittsburgh, the rebels went home and the uprising ended without bloodshed. Wigle and another man were convicted of treason for tax resistance and sentenced to be hanged. Washington pardoned both, however, and the two became the first Americans to enjoy a presidential pardon. The tax on whiskey was repealed in 1802.

WHAT MAKES THE WHISKEY REBELLION IMPORTANT? Grelli said, “The Whiskey Rebellion was the first test of federal power in this country and remains the only instance in American history of a president leading troops against his own people.”

HOW DOES WIGLE WHISKEY MAKE ITS SPIRITS? Grelli said: “We at Wigle Whiskey are working to restore a Pennsylvania tradition championed by these rebellious distillers. We make spirits much the same way Wigle and his friends did when Pittsburgh was the epicenter of American Whiskey – we mill local, organic grains on site and distill in small batches in a traditional copper pot still. We are one of the few distilleries in the United States that produce whiskey in this way.”

WIGLE WHISKEY PARTICULARS. Wigle Whiskey is located at 2401 Smallman St. in Pittsburgh, Pa. A $20 tour includes a whiskey cocktail to start, a tour of the distillation process, a history of the Whiskey Rebellion told through the eyes of Philip Wigle, and a seated straight tasting. For information visit or call (412) 728-0053.

AND REMEMBER: I think that travel comes from some deep urge to see the world, like the urge that brings up a worm in an Irish bog to see the moon when it is full. Lord Dunsany.

Susan Cohn is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association, Bay Area Travel Writers, and the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association. She may be reached at



Tags: whiskey, wigle, pittsburgh, rebellion, grelli, american,

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