Published by Angie. Last Updated on July 5, 2023.
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Sweet Rust is a Vatting House concept that bottles and sells single-barrel, cask-strength spirits from Pennsylvania and around the world. While the company doesn't distill their own spirits, they bring a wealth of knowledge and experience from their Pennsylvania Libations business to offer high-quality spirits in and around Pittsburgh.
Sweet Rust also operates a restaurant of the same name in Ligonier, located inside the historic Thistledown Hotel. We recently visited as guests of the restaurant to try their farm-to-table cuisine, plus a few cocktails made with Sweet Rust products, of course!
Sweet Rust's Vatting House Spirits Are a Delight
The building that is now the Thistledown Hotel was built by coal baron John Seger at the beginning of the 1900s. It is an impressive spot full of beautiful stained glass, fireplaces, and restored woodwork. Sweet Rust's restaurant is housed on the first floor of this building, with an outside dining area in front of the building as well.
We started our evening off with some cocktails as a means to try some of Sweet Rust's products. The menu included classics like an Old Fashioned and Manhattan, plus several cocktails fitting of the summer season utilizing fruits like peaches, blackberries, and raspberries. The Sweet Rust Manhattan, made with Sweet Rust's single barrel cask strength 5-year Tennessee Rye, definitely packed a punch due to the higher-proof spirit.
We also enjoyed the Old Fashioned, made with Sweet Rust's single barrel cask strength 8-year Bourbon, which was well-balanced with the flavor of the bourbon still at the forefront. If there is such a thing as the perfect Old Fashioned, this one could very well be it.
Later in the meal, we also tried the Bourbon Bramble, made with a 5-year bourbon, blackberry (in-season during our visit), honey, and lemon. We are normally on the fence about highball drinks because they can get overly diluted, but the use of a cask strength spirit in this drink meant you could actually still taste the spirit. Plus, the honey and blackberry flavors were delicious and equally intense for a perfect balance.
As we were, unfortunately, not staying the night (read: driving back to the city), we had to end our spirits tasting there. It is worth noting that Sweet Rust also has a mobile cart on the premises for those who want to order drams of their spirits to enjoy with a meal. Likewise, as this one is part of the Pennsylvania Libations brand, there is naturally a shop right inside the hotel to pick up bottles of Sweet Rust or other Pennsylvania-made liquors, too.
Farm-to-Table Cuisine in Ligonier
The food menu at Sweet Rust leans toward dishes that complement their spirits (particularly the whiskeys)- think steaks, pork chops, and duck. There are also several seafood and vegetarian options, plus burgers and a few sandwiches to round out the menu as well.
To start, we tried the balsamic Parmesan roasted Brussels sprouts and the hog wings. The hog wings had a nice sweet-spicy barbecue-style sauce, and the Brussels sprouts were crispy and addicting with a tang from the balsamic.
For entrees, the pork tomahawk and scallops called our name, plus we couldn't resist adding on a small 4 oz. Wagyu filet mignon to pair with the Manhattan. The pork chop was served tomahawk style with an apple cider glaze, an apple chutney, beer-braised potatoes, and brown butter green beans. The meat was cooked a little more than the medium that we had ordered, but it was still juicy and great with the apple flavors going on in the dish.
One of our favorite dishes was the scallops. These were pan-seared with a touch of maple syrup, blistered cherry tomatoes, warm spinach salad, and a brown butter goat cheese polenta. The scallops were some of the largest we've had in the area, cooked perfectly, and the accompaniments all really worked well with this dish- from the super creamy and rich polenta to the acidity of the tomatoes, topped off by the hint of sweetness from the maple. Delicious!
The Wagyu was served with roasted vegetables, smashed chili sweet potatoes, and a compound butter. Although the meat was also cooked a little more than the medium rare we'd ordered, it was still so incredibly tender that we didn't really notice- a testament to the quality of the meat. The sides brought classic flavors executed well and let the meat really shine in this dish, and of course hit all the right notes with the spirit-forward Manhattan.
Toward the end of our meal, the night's live music started on the lawn outside the restaurant (in the summer, there is regular live music on the weekends). After finishing dinner, we migrated outside to get closer to the action and listen to a few songs. Naturally, there is also an outdoor bar here that offers canned cocktails, hard seltzer, and beer if you're looking to come for just the music.
Overall, Sweet Rust his a beautiful trifecta as their cask-strength spirits make excellent cocktails, the ambiance of the building is unique, and the food is quite delicious and pair perfectly with the libations. Sweet Rust is definitely worth a stop if you find yourself near the Ligonier area, but if you plan on partaking any more you may want to snag a reservation at Thistledown to stay the night- they spirits pack a punch!
Sweet Rust is located inside the Thistledown Hotel at 221 W Main St in Ligonier. Their spirits can also be found at Pennsylvania Libations and Bonafide Beer Co. in the Strip District (all three are part of the same ownership). We were guests of Sweet Rust for this review. As always, all opinions are our own.