By Haley Frederick
Pittsburgh Current Staff Writer
When it comes to liquor, local distilleries are truly in a class of their own. There are so many amazing distillers working right here in Pennsylvania that we wanted to use the Drinks Issue to give you an introduction to a few notable spirits that we think you should try. Here is our “Glass of 2019.”
Big Spring Coconut Rum
Distillery: Nittany Valley Distilling, Bellefonte PA
Bio: This bottle brings together Big Spring’s white rum made from 100 percent Caribbean Fancy Molasses and pure coconut extract to make a deliciously tropical liquor that’s a higher proof, less sweet and better tasting than any big name brand you’ve tried before. Big Springs Spirits is certified LEED Gold for their environmentally sustainable practices. And their location in Bellefonte gives them access to its “Big Spring” which was awarded as the “best tasting water in the state” by the Pennsylvania Rural Water Association.
Compare to: Malibu, Parrot Bay
Serving suggestion: Use in daiquiris, pina coladas, bay breezes or any drink that should taste like summer.
Where to get it in PGH: Pennsylvania Libations, $30.99
BLY Rum Silver
Distillery: Pennsylvania Pure Distilleries, Glenshaw PA
Bio: This rum comes from Barry Young, the same Master Distiller behind the much-celebrated Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka. So while critics have raved about BLY Rum Silver, we think you may have overlooked it amongst all the hoopla about it’s older potato-vodka-brother. Made from 100 percent PA molasses, this full-bodied rum tastes of toasted marshmallows. While light rums make a great cocktail ingredient, this one is good enough to drink on it’s own.
Compare to: Bacardi or your favorite white rum.
Serving suggestion: On the rocks or in a classic daiquiri.
Where to get it in PGH: Fine Wine & Good Spirits or Pennsylvania Libations $19.99
Dad’s Hat Maple Cask Finished Whiskey and Small Batch Maple Syrup
Distillery: Mountain Laurel Spirits, Bristol PA
Bio: For this purely Pennsylvania collaboration, Dad’s Hat takes barrels used to age their whiskey and sends them to Grinarml’s Maple Syrup Company in Somerset. Grinarml’s syrup ages in those barrels for several months. Then, Dad’s Hat’s barrel-aged whiskey is put back into those barrels to age some more. The whiskey picks up just a hint of maple flavor to create an end product that’s not too heavy or too sweet. It’s a special kind of give and take that makes this whiskey and maple syrup the best of friends.
Compare to: Crown Royal Maple
Serving suggestion: Bring them together in an Old Fashioned with a few dashes of smoked bitters.
Where to get it in PGH: Fine Wine & Good Spirits, $43.99; syrup available at dibruno.com, $20
Liberty Pole Peated Bourbon
Distillery: Mingo Creek Craft Distillers, Washington PA
Bio: Located just blocks away from the home of one of the rebel leaders in the Whiskey Rebellion, Liberty Pole offers “history in a bottle.” The liberty pole was itself a symbol of the rebels’ unity. From their name to their location to their values, Liberty Pole is all about honoring the history of Pennsylvania whiskey. Their Peated Bourbon combines the worlds of Peated Scotches with American Bourbons—heavily peated barley and Bloody Butcher corn come together to make a smoky, earthy whiskey.
Compare to: Four Roses Bourbon
Serving suggestion: On the rocks or in any classic prohibition-era whiskey cocktail.
Where to get it in PGH: Pennsylvania Libations, $49
Maggie’s Falernum Cordial
Distillery: Allegheny Distilling Company, Pittsburgh PA
Bio: Maggie’s version of this Caribbean cocktail mixer starts with a white rum base and adds lime zest, ginger, cloves, allspice and turbinado sugar. You can even get involved in the making of this liqueur by attending one of Maggie’s lime zesting parties at their Strip District distillery. And no wonder they need help—each bottle of Falernum requires nine freshly-zested limes. When it comes to local liquor, you won’t find anything more uniquely and authentically tropical.
Compare to: Something you had on an island vacation.
Serving suggestion: Use it in place of lime for a twist on a Moscow mule, or alone as a digestif.
Where to get it in PGH: Maggie’s Farm Rum or Pennsylvania Libations, $35
Distillery: Quantum Spirits, Carnegie PA
Bio: Quantum is all about the science. Their team is set on innovating distilling technology with their backgrounds in engineering and chemistry. They closely monitor dozens of individual parameters with hundreds of data points throughout the entire process. Their gin is made from a 50/50 blend of rye and rye malt. Flavors like cucumber, cardamom, black peppercorn, rosemary, juniper and citrus majorly pop in Quantum’s gin, making it like none you’ve ever tasted.
Compare to: Hendricks
Serving suggestion: Begging to be a part of your gin and tonic. Pairs well with citrus flavors.
Where to get it in PGH: Pennsylvania Libations, $35
Stateside Urbancraft Vodka
Distillery: Federal Distilling, Philadelphia PA
Bio: This Philly-based distillery is, fittingly, a brotherly business. Matt and Bryan Quigley started formulating vodkas in their parents’ basement. Last summer they opened a showroom in Lawrenceville to bring their product from east to west. Stateside Vodka is corn-based and 7x distilled. It has a very slight sweetness and notes of citrus. The brand is consistent in its modern industrial and minimalistic aesthetic, from its website to its bottles to its showroom. Because of its style and versatility, we could see this local vodka becoming a party staple.
Compare to: Ketel One, Smirnoff
Serving suggestion: Your favorite vodka cocktail or straight from a shot glass.
Where to get it in PGH: Stateside Vodka Showroom, $27.99
Stoll & Wolfe Pennsylvania Rye Whiskey
Distillery: Stoll & Wolfe Distillery, Lititz PA
Bio: Dick Stoll is part of a lineage of Pennsylvania distillers that predates the state itself. Stoll apprenticed the grandnephew of Jim Beam and then was the last Master Distiller at Michter’s (formerly Bomberger’s) Distillery, which is known as America’s oldest distillery. Now in his 80s, Stoll provides his expertise to this new venture with Lancaster-native, Erik Wolfe. Their rye whiskey is composed of 65 percent rye, 25 percent corn and 10 percent malted barley. The spice and rye notes hit you up front, and caramelly flavors follow.
Compare to: The best premium rye whiskey you’ve had.
Serving suggestion: Put it in a Manhattan or just on the rocks.
Where to get it in PGH: Pennsylvania Libations, $50
Vieux Carre Absinthe
Distillery: Philadelphia Distilling, Philadelphia PA
Bio: As the first legal absinthe to be distilled, bottled and sold on the east coast of United States in nearly 100 years, Vieux Carre is making booze history and looking good doing it. This aromatic absinthe is batch distilled in a double maceration process, using both Grande and Petite Wormwood. Flavors of anise, fennel and clove round out this bold beverage that is beautifully bottled.
Compare to: Pernod Absinthe
Serving suggestion: An Absinthe Drip or a Death in the Afternoon (also called a Hemingway).
Where to get it in PGH: Fine Wine & Good Spirits, $59.99; Pennsylvania Libations, $59
Xplorer Wheat Vodka
Distillery: Kilimanjaro Distillery, Allentown PA
Bio: The Chokshi’s, the family behind Kilimanjaro Distillery, are originally from Tanzania. Their Xplorer Wheat Vodka is 12x distilled to achieve an ultra smooth product. It’s made with 100 percent Winter wheat and has a slightly herbal, citrus flavor. Kilimanjaro Distillery is conscious of the impact it can have on its local community and the world, so a portion of all profits from Xplorer Spirits is used to provide clean drinking water to communities in need through the Tanzania Water Project and to the Pennsylvania Meals on Wheels.
Compare to: Grey Goose, Ketel One
Serving suggestion: This full-flavored vodka is perfect for martinis or mixing with your favorite fruit juices.
Where to get it in PGH: Pennsylvania Libations, $25