A Cocktail Week Dad's Hat tasting

Written by Bob Batz Jr. on . Spirits

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As part of Sept. 16 to 22 Pittsburgh Cocktail Week, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 19, Union Pig & Chicken is hosting meet Dad's Hat Rye Whiskey co-founder and distiller Herman Mihalich.

Customers can sample cocktails of four cocktails with three courses for $55 per person, plus tax and tip. Even some of the food will be cooked with Dad's Hat and smoked with wood from a used Dad’s Hat aging barrel.

Pouring will be the Rye Whiskey, aged in charred white oak quarter casks; unaged and relatively neutral White Rye; and Vermouth Barrel-Aged Rye Whiskey, finished for three months in a Vya Sweet Vermouth barrel. 

The brand's name comes from Mr. Mihalich’s father, who once owned a bar in Monessen and whose trademark was his Stetson hat. It's made in Bristol, about 20 miles northeast of Philadelphia. For more, visit the website.

For more on Union Pig & Chicken and Harvard & Highland upstairs, call 1-412-363-7675 or visit www.sousapgh.com.

Dad's Hat photo

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A new distiller: Disobedient Spirits

Written by Bill Toland on . Spirits

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Bob Sechrist’s mom was driving him to orchards when he was just a teen, the two of them buying up fruit that would later become wine. Now a geography professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, he teaches a course on regional winemaking, among others.

So in a perfect world, he would have become a vinter. But the world is imperfect, and Mr. Sechrist — along with his business partner, Bob Begg — will instead be opening a distillery in Homer City, Indiana County, perhaps by this autumn, the third commercial distillery in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

The pair of IUP professors — Mr. Sechrist still teaches, while Mr. Begg retired a year ago — incorporated the business last year, calling it Disobedient Spirits LLC. The still (the piece of equipment that heats, separates and distills the spirits) is being custom-built by Hillbilly Stills in Kentucky and should be delivered in April, while the property that will eventually house the distilling operation should come into their possession in the next week or two.

“The biggest stumbling block was finding a building that would work for us,” Mr. Sechrist said. The building they settled on was formerly a medium-sized grocery store (called Mazzoni and Runzo’s), about 12,000 square feet, at 30 S. Main St. in Homer City.

“The roof is falling in. There’s asbestos. The electricity hasn’t been turned on in a couple of years,” Mr. Begg said. “But that’s part of the excitement — [to] fix it up, and make it nice.”

Like our other local distillers, Wigle (Pittsburgh Distilling Co., LLC) and Boyd & Blair vodka (Pennsylvania Pure Distilleries), the pair behind Disobedient Spirits got into distilling as relative novices, studying up as they moved through the process, consulting with experts, attending conferences organized by the American Distillers Institute.

And as with the other distillers, the process — from property acquisition, to build-out, to licensing — has gone slower than they imagined. The most recent hiccup was Homer City’s zoning code, and whether the code would allow a distillery to open up next door to a church.

“Progress is slow,” Mr. Begg said. “The still is already late.”

Better late than never, though, and both Mr. Begg and Mr. Sechrist say there’s no turning back now. Best-case scenario, they’ll have a product on hand by Christmas 2013.

Ah, yes, the product. Disobedient Spirits will make wheat vodka and rye whiskey, at least initially. “Vodka, that’s the easiest thing to make. And it requires very little aging,” Mr. Sechrist said. Future spirits, he said, might include a blue corn whiskey, resembling a bourbon; a barley whiskey; and flavored vodkas.

Though state law permits local “limited” distilleries to produce and sell up to 100,000 gallons annually, Disobedient Spirits will start out making 5,000 gallons a year, the pair hopes. They are still working out the sourcing of their grains, bottles and barrels, but they eventually hope to buy as much of it as possible from within Pennsylvania.

For updates on the distillery's progress, visit: http://disobedientspirits.com/

Disobedient Spirits image

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Acacia to install cocktail taps

Written by Melissa McCart on . Spirits

75258 315221085253936 425144070 n 1Cocktail taps are making their way to bars around the country, where they can be outfitted to pour a single liquor, aged cocktails or especially popular drinks such as a Negroni.

Acacia on the South Side will be among the first wave in Pittsburgh to install cocktail taps, which will debut in the next couple of weeks.

It would have been sooner, said bartender Spencer Warren. Someone stole the Fedex box that contained the remaining parts that was left at the door of the Carson Street establishment.  "As soon as we get replacements, we can install them," he said.

Bars in other cities such as San Francisco and D.C. where cocktail taps are making an appearance cite an increase in sales for featured drinks. It often translates to a less expensive cocktail and cuts the wait time during a rush.

While some bars use taps to feature something such as Fernet, Mr. Warren confirms each of the four taps installed will feature mixed drinks. "It takes the same amount of time to take the cap off a bottle as it does to pour from a tap," he quipped.

Might taps dilute consumers' experience? For an elaborate cocktail, stick with the bartender, especially if the banter is as much a part of the experience as the booze.

Acacia photo

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Feel the Burns

Written by Bob Batz Jr. on . Spirits

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All around the world this month, dinners will be held and toasts will be made in honor of Robert Burns, the great Scottish poet who was born on Jan. 25, 1759.

Probably the coolest local celebration will be happening at Piper's Pub on the South Side, which is marking the occasion on Monday, Jan.  21.

They're calling it "A Living History in Whisky" (as the Scotch spell it), because leading a journey of five Scotch malt whiskies will be expert John McDougall, above right, who back in the 1970s managed the famed Laphroaig Distillery. The master blender and distiller has worked in and with distilleries in all the regions of Scotland.

For this event and others like it, he's working with Wild Scotsman Whisky, a Cincinnati outfit that blends and bottles Scotch whisky. It's run by Jeffrey Topping (above left), who also trained in distilling and blending in Scotland, apprenticing with Mr. McDougall.

On this night, Mr. Topping, a cousin of Piper's owner Drew Topping, will perform the traditional "Address to a Haggis," and the crowd will toast with Wild Scotsman Black Label.

The celebration begins at 9 p.m. and costs $35.

The evening's food menu fits the theme: Cock a Leekie Soup, Haggis-Stuffed Chicken in a Whisky Cream Sauce with Tatties and Neeps, and for "Afters" -- dessert -- Raspberry Cranachan.

That supper is available from 5 p.m. to close for $20.95.

Pipers is at 1828 E. Carson St., South Side (412-381-2797).

Wild Scotsman photo

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Wigle releasing aged rye

Written by Bill Toland on . Spirits

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Just in time for Christmas, the Strip District's Wigle Whiskey is issuing batch No. 1 of its aged rye whiskey tomorrow. To date, the small Pittsburgh distiller has been selling mostly "white" whiskey (clear, unaged wheat and rye) along with some old-style ginever.

This first aged whiskey will have taken on the more familiar caramel coloring. That's because it's been aged in barrels, and whiskey largely draws its color from the charred oak and other woods.

Wigle, which is "finishing" the whiskey in cherry and maple woods, will be selling just 160 bottles of the aged rye, so you'll have to move fast if you want to get your hands on batch No. 1. The next aged batch won't become available until November 2013.

Doors will open at 9 .a.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, and the first 50 people in line will receive complimentary hot cocoa spiked with Wigle Whiskey.

Wigle Whiskey photo

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The smoking gun

Written by Melissa McCart on . Spirits

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Instead of a review today in the Post-Gazette's Weekend section, I focus on Dutch DeVries, the cocktail aficionado who is influencing how Pittsburgh drinks. 

Mr. DeVries has a terrific home bar in the Strip District that rivals those at some restaurants. He's a fan of whiskey and rye in particular. He likes classic cocktails.

This week, he been more animated than usual. He played with fire at Bar Marco in the Strip as he made Blue Blazer cocktails. And he cut a rug with his girlfriend at last night's Repeal Day celebration at Salt of the Earth in Garfield. 

Below are some photographs from the shoot at Mr. DeVries home as he smoked the cocktail I wrote about here
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Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette photos


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