Gin is not a spirit that inspires ambivalence. Julia Child once said that she owed her longevity to a steady diet of gin and red meat, and W.C. Fields made a habit of never drinking anything stronger — at least, not before breakfast. Of course, there are those folks who feel that the juniper-scented spirit reeks of Pine-Sol. If you fall into that camp, it might be wise to stop reading now, since we’re about to introduce a gin that’s packed with all sorts of piney-wonderful aromatics.
Pittsburgh-based Wigle Whiskey, a newcomer on the Pennsylvania craft-spirits scene, has just rolled out Wigle’s Ginever, a pre-Prohibition-style gin — or really jenever. Jenever is the juniper-scented Dutch precursor to gin, originally crafted, as so many spirits are, for medicinal purposes.
For Wigle’s modern-day take on jenever, they swap out the traditional neutral vodka base for a triple-distilled blend of organic rye and malted barley, and then infuse it with a floral bouquet of juniper, lavender, cardamom and cubeb berries, peppery little fruits grown in Java and Sumatra.
It’s a super-clean gin with a supple body richer than most, one that gin diehards would have no problem sipping on the rocks, taking in the palate of the bright botanicals. And it’s those botanic-als that make a mean martini with just a quick rinse of vermouth and a twist. Which brings to mind another damned fine gin quote from Noel Coward: “A perfect martini should be made by filling a glass with gin then waving it in the general direction of Italy.”
So what’s with the Wigle name? Well, that’s a story that goes back to pre-Prohibition times, just like the Ginever recipe. According to local lore, Philip Wigle (or Vigol, depending on whom you talk to) was a distiller who ran into some trouble with the tax man and was sentenced to death by noose (hence Wigle’s rope logo). His passion for whiskey-making and his steadfast decision not to pay new taxes on his wares earned him a tragic spot as a hero in the George Washington-era Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania.
In addition to the Ginever, Wigle’s also makes White Rye Whiskey, White Wheat Whiskey, Aged Whiskey, 95% Rye and DIY barrel-aging kits. If you find yourself in the Pittsburgh area, you can stop by the distillery for a tour and a tasting. Wigle Ginever will surely be making its way east sometime in the near future and will also soon be available online through the PLCB website, finewineandgoodspirits.com.