Vodka, whiskey, gin… Chances are, if you’re a cocktail drinker, you’ve got the basics stocked at home. Throwing together a simple gin and tonic or an Old Fashioned is easy enough, but what if you’re looking for something a little more exciting?
Lucky for you, Pittsburgh’s vibrant distilling scene has plenty to offer that you might not find on the shelves of your local spirits store. Whether you’re a home bar newbie or a genuine mixologist-in-training, making an impressive cocktail in your own kitchen has never been easier thanks to these unique spirits and liqueurs.
If you’re ready to up your cocktail game with some truly special products, check out our list of standout spirits from a few of our favorite Pittsburgh distilleries:
Kingfly Spirits is an artisanal, small-batch distiller that “combines inspiration from traditional recipes with innovation and discovery,” which means that you should often expect to see innovative, unique products behind their bar. In addition to their line of traditional spirits, their international line features a limoncello that has quickly become a local favorite. It’s impressive smooth, yet bright and fruity — perfect for summertime. (It even took home a 2019 SIP Awards prize: International Spirits Competition Winner in the Fruit/Berry Liqueur category.)
You’ve probably heard how “moonshine” got its name — it used to be made in secret in the middle of the night, underneath the light of the moon. That’s not the case anymore, thanks to distillers like McLaughlin who are bringing unique flavors (and fun!) to this funky spirit. Their pickle moonshine might be the most unique of them all, and while you might think it would necessitate an acquired taste, it makes a great addition to a martini, a Bloody Mary, and can even be used to up the ante on a pickleback shot!
Looking for a cocktail that brings the smoke? Try mixing in some ancho chili liqueur, handcrafted by Pennsylvania Pure Distilleries. This smoky, sweet liqueur is created by steeping ancho chili peppers (with the seeds!) in the brand’s BLY 105 silver rum until it becomes a bold, dark brown color. Once it’s lightened up with some simple syrup, it can be used to bring some sweet heat to a daiquiri or even an Old Fashioned.
You may know it as ouzo, sambuca, or even pastis, but Lucky Sign Spirits, which opened last spring in Millvale, calls theirs raki. It’s the national drink of Turkey, and there’s a secret lurking inside every bottle: even though it’s clear at first, raki turns cloudy and white with a splash of water, which is why it’s sometimes known as “lion’s milk.” This smooth, anise-flavored liqueur can be enjoyed neat or with ice, and it always brings an air of celebration with every pour.
The falernum liqueur from Maggie’s Farm Rum is the closest thing to homemade you’re going to find in stores in Pittsburgh — or maybe anywhere. Made with hand-grated lime zest, fresh ground ginger, and toasted clove, this white rum-based liqueur is made with fresh ingredients but is conveniently shelf-stable, so it’s perfect to keep on hand as a mixer or digestif. It’s also an absolute must-have for tropical drink lovers, so pick up a bottle and prepare your tiki mugs!
There’s traditional, and then there’s traditionelle. Lawrenceville Distilling Co.’s 1129 Ridge Ave. Absinthe Traditionelle is made using a recipe developed in 1885 in Pontarlier, France, which was celebrated for its absinthe production. Using brandy as a base, this absinthe is flavored with wormwood, fennel, and anise to create a unique taste and its famous bright green color. (And no, it’s not hallucinogenic! Don’t believe everything you see in Moulin Rouge.)
Gin lovers, this one’s for you: Quantum Spirits has taken their well-loved gin and dialed the flavor up to an 11. Their barrel-rested gin starts out with typical gin aromatics: juniper, citrus, black peppercorn. Then, it’s rested in medium toasted and charred oak barrels until it becomes the color of tea and is infused with even more flavors: vanilla, cardamom, sweet and bitter orange peel are some of the highlights. Try it in a mainstream gin cocktail for a more savory flavor, or even substitute it for whiskey in your next Old Fashioned!
Amaro is a well-known Italian herbal liqueur that’s likely already on the bar carts of many Yinzers, but how many can say that theirs has a Mediterranean twist? Wigle Whiskey’s saffron amaro may just be the flavor boost you’re missing. Made using Wigle’s apple brandy and a blend of 12 botanicals (including saffron, orange peel, and chamomile), this amaro has notes of citrus, honey, and a hint of floral flavor that’s perfect for spring. Try it neat or in an amaro-based classic: a Negroni.
4Four6 Distillery and Tupelo Honey Teas in Millvale have joined forces to create a series of unique tea-infused gins that are brimming with bright, local flavors. Their second joint effort is Snow Queen, which is flavored with a spiced coconut chai tea and is a beautiful caramel brown color. The snow may have melted away (for now…), but Snow Queen brings a spicy-sweet chai flavor to just about any cocktail your heart desires. Or, as the name implies, you can always enjoy it on ice!
Bassett Town Whiskey from Liberty Pole Spirits might look plain, but its surprisingly clear color is actually a nod to our region’s historical whiskey production. Before barrel aging whiskey became popular, Pennsylvania farmers would have used clear whiskey like this as a form of currency. After aging in a barrel for just a day, Liberty Pole Spirits bottles up their high-rye whiskey to stop it from coloring any further. However, just because it’s clear doesn’t mean you should underestimate Basset Town Whiskey — its flavorful, local winter rye blend brings plenty of spice to any drink.This content was provided by a local, independent contributor to Made in PGH, a lifestyle blog.