Informative and Sample Heavy Tour Offers Incite to Strip District
By Hattie Charney
Wigle Whiskey on Smallman Street kicks off the history and libations tour with their bourbon and rye whiskeys.
Maggie’s Farm Rum and Pennsylvania Winery bring in groups of like-liquor minded people.
Pennsylvania Libations is a roundup of the above places and of distilleries all across Pennsylvania.
Marta Mazzoni will take you on a walk to the variety of places mentioned above while giving the history of the industrial Strip District on her Pennsylvania Original Libations Tour, which will crank back up as soon as the COVID-19 virus passes.
“Walk. Learn. Imbibe. Repeat,” is the slogan that Mazzoni lives by during her tours.
Mazzoni’s Libations Tour offers an inside look at the growing alcohol industry that is blossoming within the Strip District area of Pittsburgh. The tour, an intimate-sized group of 6-12 people, offers a wide range of cultural knowledge about Pittsburgh’s own libation history. Mazzoni explains the history of the Whiskey Rebellion and how the Strip District has played a part in rectifying that misfortune.
The tour is roughly two hours long and does involve quite a bit of walking, so be sure to bring your walking shoes. Mazzoni wants to educate her attendees about the Pittsburgh prohibition era as well as the whiskey rebellion that affected a large portion of Western Pennsylvania. Mazzoni’s roots in Pennsylvania inspired her to create the tour.
“I grew up in Pittsburgh, but I love traveling and linking cultural experiences back to my hometown,” Mazzoni said.
Mazzoni started her podcast “Marta on the Move” in June of 2014, interviewing various artists and creative peoples in the Pittsburgh region. She wanted to highlight the cultural advancing that Pittsburgh was making.
Stemming from the podcast came the idea to create a libations tour in the strip district.
“The idea has always been in the back of my mind,” Mazzoni said. “We have hosted so many dinner parties, happy hours, blind tastings and game nights that this just seemed like a very cool thing to do to showcase Pittsburgh’s growing alcohol industry and also meet new like-minded friends in the process.”
The Libations tour begins with Mazzoni introducing herself to the group of eight that have made it out on a sunny Saturday right outside of Pittsburgh Libations before the city shut down.
Currently, Pittsburgh Libations is located at 2103 Penn Ave. but is moving to a larger location in conjunction with Helltown Brewing right up the road at 1700 Penn Ave. Pennsylvania Libations is a one of a kind liquor stores, offering only Pennsylvania made liquors.
“We sell Pennsylvania made spirits, ciders, meads and beer to liquor license holders, distributors, breweries, wineries, distilleries and venues,” Christian Simmons, owner and founder, said.
For Mazzoni’s tour, attendees are encouraged to find one of the hundreds of products on the shelf and give it a sample. From Thistle Finch Distillery in Lancaster, PA to Liberty Pole Spirits in Washington, PA, Pennsylvania Libations has spirits from all over Pennsylvania.
Once everyone has had three samples of various gins, whiskey’s and vodkas at Pittsburgh Libations, they are herded up and begin their walk up Smallman Street to Wigle Whiskey.
Along the way, Mazzoni begins to tell the story of the Whiskey Rebellion and the effect it had on the settlers within the Pittsburgh area. Alexander Hamilton began to tax distilled spirits, which everybody and their mother would create because it turned the water into safe drinking.
Pittsburghers, not liking being told what to do, began to revolt against that tax and began to torment the tax collectors that came to their farms.
One man who was affected was Philip Wigle, the namesake for Wigle Whiskey.
Walking into Wigle Whiskey attendees were greeted with a flight showcasing three spirits made by Wigle. Co-owner Meredith Grelli welcomes everyone to the newly renovated space and explains the namesake of Wigle.
“We’ve been telling these stories for almost 10 years now,” Grelli said.
Wigle was sentenced to hang by George Washington. It wasn’t until the day of hanging was upon them that Washington pardoned Wigle and allowed him to return to Western Pennsylvania unharmed. Grelli went on to say that Wigle was the inspiration for her and her husband to begin lobbying for craft distilleries to begin distilling and selling within Pennsylvania again.
More about Wigle and their history can be found during their tours every Saturday. More information can be found on their website, wiglewhiskey.com
The next stop of the tour will be Pittsburgh Winery. Manager, Rachel Travisano, greets the group and invites everyone in to sample Pittsburgh wine.
“We are unique because we bring the best grapes we can source from California and Chile and make everything in the Strip District,” Travisano said.
The Winery has been open for seven years and owner Tim Gaber created the winery out of his hobby for making wine. The Winery is currently under renovation but they are open in a temporary space located at 2710 Penn Ave. After the expansion and the end of the pandemic, Travisano hopes to offer a tour at the new location.
“We were a full-time music venue and had bands almost every night in the wine cellar that fit 100 people,” Tavisano said. “We are expecting to fit over 200 people in the new place.”
Guests enjoy their tasting and even have a chance to guess some tasting notes of their Chardonnay and Malbec.
After the notes of cherry and oak, Mazzoni leads the group on a walk to Maggie’s Farm Rum.
Along the way, she describes the once heavy industrial side to the Strip District.
“With the expansion of Wigle and other small distilleries, businesses and restaurants are reviving the way we think about the Strip District,” Mazzoni said.
While the outside might not look like much, the inside opens up for a look into the distillery.
“When you come in, the way the tasting room is set up, you kind of get a view of the entire operation without having to really go behind the scenes physically,” owner and head distiller, Tim Russel, said.
Maggie’s Farm Rum has been in the rum industry for six and a half years. Russel wanted to get into the craft brewing industry but wanted to stand out against competitors; so, he chose rum.
“We’ve focused one hundred-percent on just making rum as opposed to branching out into a bunch of different products,” Russel said. “From one base of rum, we have up to fourteen different skews of rum or rum liquors with most parts all coming from that one base.”
Guests get to taste not only their signature rum but their barrel-aged rum and some of their liquors.
Maggie’s Farm does offer tours of their own. They offer one tour a week on Saturday at 3 p.m.
With the global pandemic, COVID-19, all of these distilleries and wineries have been affected. Their normal operating hours will resume after the quarantine lifts.
To show support for these distilleries, visit their websites listed below to see how you can contribute or pick up a bottle for yourself to enjoy.
Mazzoni’s tour has also been pushed due to COVID-19 and will resume when it is safe. Keep updated on tour information on Mazzoni’s website and on her Eventbrite pages. The cost of the tour is $69.99. The first date available for the tour is Sunday, June 14 from 12:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Pennsylvania Libations: http://palibations.com/#
Wigle Whiskey: https://wiglewhiskey.com/
Pittsburgh Winery: https://www.pittsburghwinery.com/
Maggie’s Farm Rum: https://www.maggiesfarmrum.com/
Marta on the Move: https://martaonthemove.com/wp/
Pennsylvania Original Libations Tour: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/pittsburghs-original-walking-libations-tour–tickets-60542010784
Disclosure: Hattie Charney is an employee for Wigle Whiskey.