A couple years back, it took nothing more than a tour through Wigle Whiskey’s Barrelhouse in Spring Garden to provide me with an instant connection to their company. The fact they tout the honor of Most Awarded Craft Whiskey Distillery in the United States by the American Craft Spirits Association for 2015, 2016, and 2017 aside, the history, background, and knowledge of the whiskey industry shared on said tour vividly revealed their dedication to education and how prominently the past can influence the present. From the birth of Monongahela Rye in Western Pennsylvania to the Whiskey Rebellion that brought Philip Wigle, the company’s namesake, to prominence to whiskey’s expansion to west of the Mississippi to its impact on the adult beverage community today, I found myself hanging on every word.
Education and product knowledge are cornerstones of Wigle’s philosophy. From the start, owners Alex Grilli and Meredith Meyer-Grilli felt there was a calling to bring whiskey back to region rich with heritage and this belief has extended into their newest venture: Threadbare Cider & Meads. After two years of planning and preparation, the spacious, multi-use cider house is set to open to the world on Friday, October 20th in Spring Garden – a former “makers neighborhood” where brewing, tanning, and woodworking industries flourished decades ago – and just two blocks from the aforementioned Barrel House. The parcel features a 10,556 square-foot brick structure that once housed the biggest tannery (a place where animal hides are tanned) in PA and a 6,128 square-foot warehouse that will serve as a second barrelhouse to age whiskey. A stop at the barrelhouse down the street will reveal the need for much more space. The venue will play host to private events, conferences, receptions, tours, and more.
Threadbare, a $2.5 million project, is the largest investment in beverage production in the City of Pittsburgh in decades. The name and overall theme of the space pays homage to John Chapman, a simple man who you probably know as “Johnny Appleseed.” Chapman became skilled as an orchardist and grew apples that he would sell to citizens in his travels through Western PA, Ohio, and Illinois in the 1800s. Apples grown in America during this time period were seldom eaten, but rather used to make hard cider – a replacement in many areas for wine, beer, coffee, tea, juice, and even water. With water potentially housing dangerous bacteria, cider was a safe and delicious alternative and many people had Chapman to thank. He’d go door to door with bags of apples and proudly proclaim “Good News Fresh From Heaven!” when homeowners would answer the door, selling them his apple stock for next to nothing.
Chapman was a religious man who went through life on the bare essentials. The term “threadbare” is often used when referring to someone of poor and shabby appearance, a moniker Chapman wore proudly. He literally wouldn’t hurt a fly, often seen extinguishing fires because he couldn’t bear to see their peril in the radiant heat.
The history of Johnny Appleseed is present throughout Threadbare’s building, with wallpaper designs adorning the walls with references to his place in history. If you want to learn more, adult and child-friendly tours will be guided through Threadbare’s facility once their grand opening takes place. Non-alcoholic ciders will be provided for the children while parents can sip on their favorite fermented offerings.
Threadbare features 20 taps where cider, meads, and local beers will flow. The beverage program is managed by Audra Kelly.
According to Brian Bolzan, Head of Production and Cider Maker, the kickoff lineup will feature Threadbare’s Farmhouse (8% ABV), Dry (7.5% ABV), and Hopped (8% ABV) offerings, with a fourth cider soon to follow. Brian wasted little time launching Threadbare’s barrel-aging program, placing cider inside wood receptacles less than 24 hours after obtaining licensing. Mead will debut down the road due to the time it needs to mature inside the fermentation tanks.
“We’ll be doing high-ABV ciders that are high in tannins and have a nice tartness to them,” Brian said.
The production facility features three fermenters today, but the space is large enough to expand in the future. Brian hopes to house 11 fermenters as Threadbare evolves. They’ll also feature a bottling line and will release 750mL bottles for purchase. Because the line has yet to be installed, the first 3,000 bottles will be packaged by hand. It’s apropos because this, as Brian affectionately stated, is “the Wigle way.”
In addition, Threadbare features a full kitchen manned by Executive Chef Jay Wess and Sous Chef Keith Reiminck, as well as fresh pastries designed by Pastry Chef Elise Miranda. This is the Grilli’s first leap into food, having relied on food trucks to supply the grub for functions and tasting hours at their Wigle facilities. Still, their devotion to quality and local sourcing remains constant.
“We feel the quality of food being delivered will be right in line with the quality of cider,” Meredith declared.
My sneak preview of Threadbare provided a grand tour, cocktail and cider samples, and an up-close look at the food menu. The pizzas truly showcased the culinary creativity in the kitchen and offered something for everyone. My personal favorite was the slow-cooked tomato and peppers with a sunny-side up egg, but even a gluten-consuming man like myself could not get passed the deliciousness of the Polenta Pizza, a wonderful alternative for those with gluten allergies.
“We don’t feel anyone with gluten issues should be given a second-rate option,” Chef Wess said.
Pittsburgh’s libations landscape continues to evolve daily and the addition of Threadbare brings us another exceptional destination featuring beverages, education, dining, and memorable experiences. To be on hand at the Grand Opening extravaganza on October 20th, reserve your tickets here. Space is limited, so don’t delay!
Saturday, October 21st: Threadbare will be open from 11:00am – 10:00pm with tours running at 11:30am, 1:00pm, and 2:30pm.