Last Updated on June 1, 2022 by Jeremy
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We can think back to a time in the not-so-distance past when there were no distilleries in Pittsburgh at all (distilleries in the form we know and love, at least).
Yes, it seems unusual to think that the region known for the historic Whiskey Rebellion from 1791-1794 would somehow ever be devoid of distilleries outright. This all came about thanks to an arcane law that prevented distilleries from having on-site sales and as such only a few operated in the state- mostly for commercial sales direct to bars, the state store, and other indirect consumers.
It wasn't until the founders of Wigle Whiskey lobbied to get the law change that our distillery scene really started to take off with the on-site bar programs we know and love. For reference of time scale, this was only in 2012, and with the change in laws, Wigle became the first distillery to open in the city limits and only the third to open in the state at all!
As such, Pittsburgh's distillery scene can only be defined as young but growing rapidly. Distilleries, like Wigle, that were founded around the start of the rule change are only recently starting to get aged products that rival other regions that have been producing for decades, and not a year goes by that several new distilleries pop onto the scene as well.
In this one, we want to briefly share a bit about all of the distilleries we've been to so far!
Wigle Whiskey is an homage to the Whiskey Rebellion through and through. Philip Wigle, one of the instigators of the rebellion, was convicted of treason and sentenced to hang for his part but was later pardoned by George Washington to not divide the newly found country any further.
The distillery here started, naturally, with whiskey, and has a strong focus on using local grains as well as championing the return of the little-known Monongahela Rye style (a personal favorite of ours). Over the years the distillery has expanded its product line to be one of the most robust in the city with spirits like various styles of gin, vodka, grappa, absinthe, liqueurs, and much more coming out. This one now has so many bottles that you will have to visit many times over to even sample them all just once!
The distillery's original location in the Strip District remains to this day (albeit with a further expansion to add more bar space and a full kitchen) and now also has many more tasting rooms throughout the area as well. Our only regret with this one is that some of their super-premium options, while among the best in the area, come at a premium that may price some buyers out.
Wigle Whiskey has several locations around the city. Their main facility is at 2401 Smallman Street in the Strip District.
Maggie's Farm Rum
Maggie's Farm Rum is another distillery in the Strip District that focuses on one primary spirit- rum. Not just any rum, though, but world-class rums that routinely win gold medals and best of shows at national and international competitions year after year after year (seriously, look at their medal collection above the bar when you go).
From an exceptional white rum made in collaboration with local tiki bar, Hidden Harbor, to aged rums with wonderful barrel characteristics, finished rums in other ex-liquor barrels (the sherry release is a personal favorite), to spiced rum, pineapple rum, and more, this one really has something for everyone who considers themselves rum fans. Since we are indeed rum fans, no one should be surprised that this distillery has one of the biggest presences in our home bar, too!
But going beyond just rum, the distillery makes a pretty killer falernum, coffee liqueur, brandies, and other seasonal releases as well that disappear far too quickly thanks to their popularity. This can be enjoyed most of all with their exceptional on-site bar program that is home to some of the best cocktails in the city (the painkiller is a staple and is really hard to beat). Don't miss this one!
Maggie's Farm Rum is located at 3212a Smallman Street in the Strip District.
Quantum Spirits is our kind of distillery thanks to their wonderful lineup of spirits, amazing cocktail program, delicious food menu, and of course, the ambiance at large (they really lean into the Sci-Fi and Team Nerd concepts here, of which we fully appreciate both).
The phrase used often around this one is “respect the past, drink to the future” which truly sums up this one nicely.
Spirits here often follow classic styles but with modern twists, production techniques, and other unique features that make them stand out. One of the first spirits they released was rye vodka which had a smooth and slightly sweet flavor profile thanks to the unique grain for the base spirit. The whiskey is being aged progressively in a solera system which is becoming more and more intense with each passing batch. The house Marquette liquor (vermouth), amaro, and others have rather unique ingredients as well (the Roiboos in the vermouth is a delight). We could go on.
As such, this one goes toe-to-toe with Maggie's for the biggest representation in our home bar. Great base spirits make for delightful cocktails!
Quantum Spirits is located at 230 E Main Street in Carnegie, PA.
Liberty Pole Spirits
Liberty Pole Spirits in Washington, PA, may require a bit of a drive, but those who visit this modest distillery in the heart of the city will be rewarded with some incredibly delicious spirits and even more impressive cocktails.
The vibe at this distillery is of special note as they lean into the Whiskey Rebellion theme, perhaps even more so than Wigle (above) with rustic colonial designs, an upside-down portrait of Hamilton on the wall, and an annual raising of the liberty pole event as well.
For those who want something unique, the peated bourbon whiskey (and rare peated rye release) is not to be missed. The flavors are not as intense as Scotch whiskey but are a nod to the style all with the wonderful bourbon characteristics we know and love. This may truly be the best whiskey made in all of southwest Pennsylvania and is a bottle that we go through way more frequently than we'd like to admit.
Liberty Pole Spirits is located at 68 W Maiden Street in Washington, PA.
Lawrenceville Distilling is a small batch distillery tucked just off Butler Street in Lawrenceville that produces vodka, gin, and absinthe as of our first visit.
While their portfolio may be a bit lighter than others in the area, they make up for it with a proper bar program with classic cocktails using their spirits as well as a couple inventive house creations thrown into the mix. On our first visit, this one was called Those Arent Pillows and was an absinthe-forward cocktail made with pineapple juice and aquafaba that, while maybe not everyone's cup of tea, certainly showed the versatility of an otherwise intense spirit.
Our beverages outside of this included a Gin Old Fashioned and Sazerac (using another PA-based distillery's rye) and really helped showcase their spirits without overpowering the flavors. We really look forward to seeing what this one does next!
Lawrenceville Distilling is located at 5410 Harrison Street in Lawrenceville.
Kingfly Spirits is another Strip District-based distillery located just a few blocks away from Wigle Whiskey. This one opened in 2019 in a former barn that was used as a stable and lumber company over the years and every bit looks the part.
The distillery started out strong with an array of young and aged spirits, a delicious cocktail program with one of the best Old Fashioneds in the city, and a strong push for live music in the distillery outright. So whether you want vodka, rum, gin, whiskey, limoncello, or simply want a craft beverage listening to some great music on select nights, Kingfly has a lot of options with a stellar vibe to match.
Kingfly Spirits is located at 2613 Smallman Street in the Strip District.
Lucky Sign Spirits
Lucky Sign Spirits opened up what we would call a micro-distillery right in the heart of Millvale in 2020. But while this particular space is small (and does not yet have a cocktail program for in-house drinks), they make up for it with a massive array of spirits for tasting and bottle sales as well as a limited selection of cocktails to go!
In fact, for being a younger distillery this one's portfolio is truly impressive with the likes of vodka, gin, and limoncello being offset by rye whiskey, bourbon, and other aged spirits (which we believe are white labels) plus more unconventional items like aquavit and raki!
The latter are among the more unique spirits you don't see too much of in the city, and their aquavit has even won double gold in the category at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, too. Not bad for a new distillery at all, and we look forward to seeing where this one goes once their full production space opens up in Gibsonia in the near future. But for now, head down to Millvale for a few samples, pick up a bottle, and, if available, a cocktail to go too!
Lucky Sign Spirits is located at 215 North Avenue in Millvale.
Bella Bambini Cello
While Bella Bambini Cello is not what you may think of when we discuss distilleries in this article, we are including them in this guide purely because they have a wide array of fortified spirits available for purchase made via infusion. That is to say, they are cellos!
The cello list here includes conventional orange and lemon cellos as well as more out-there flavors like pineapple, coffee, and more. Potent for sipping and even more devious for mixers to give some added pop to your favorite cocktail!
The storefront for this one is located in Coraopolis, but like a few other distilleries here they are primarily open for quick tastings and bottle sales as opposed to having a robust bar program.
Bella Bambini Cello is located at 1042 5th Avenue in Coraopolis, PA.
McLaughlin Distillery opened in 2016 as a whiskey and moonshine producer in Sewickley. While you may often see this one at events and farmer's markets, the main facility is open for tours, tastings, and bottle sales as well (but no proper bar program for cocktails as of my visit in 2021).
At this one, I was surprised to find over twenty different flavors of moonshine with styles ranging from the well-known (limoncello, peach, etc) to the off-beat (jalapeno, pickle, and more). Beyond moonshine, the facility has a small whiskey series that also includes traditional expressions (bourbon, small barrel “baby” bourbon) as well as flavored whiskeys (like applewood smoked, maple, applewood and maple) to round out the portfolio.
The styles here definitely trend to the unconventional side more than traditional, but the wide flavor spread ensures there is something for everyone's tastes. Personally, I quite liked tasting my way through the whiskey selection and seeing how one ingredient change influences the flavors in the bottle. A neat way to see how ingredients influence flavors in spirits!
McLaughlin Distillery is located at 3799 Blackburn Road in Sewickley, PA.
Boyd & Blair Spirits
Boyd & Blair opened in 2008 as only the 2nd distillery in the state of Pennsylvania. This distillery, known for its delightful and increasingly popular potato vodka, has undergone many changes over the years at its Glenshaw location. This includes producing new rum (BLY Rum) and ready-to-drink cocktail lines, being open for cocktails and tours for a brief period of time, and subsequently closing to the public in lieu of hosting semi-private ticketed events instead.
So while you will likely experience this one outside of the distillery, particularly in locally made cocktails or via bottles from the state store, be on the lookout for random opportunities to check out the facility if they pop up as it is a pretty unique space worth checking out!
Boyd & Blair Spirits is located at 1101 William Flynn Highway in Glenshaw, PA.
Ridge Runner Distillery
Ridge Runner Distillery is located in the heart of the Laurel Highlands and produces vodka and whiskey-based spirits that could be considered to be moonshine-esque. Beyond the base spirits, they also offer a limited number of flavored products including apple pie, peach pie, and a delightful root beer flavored spirit that can be made into some pretty refreshing cocktails at their on-site bar.
Ridge Runner Distillery 417 Fayette Springs Road in Chalkhill, PA.
Do you have any favorite Pittsburgh distilleries? Comment below to share! We will be adding more to this list as time goes on and truly look forward to how our spirits scene is developing in the coming years.