When the Meyer-Grelli family opened Wigle Whiskey in March 2012, they followed a recipe of their own design: take one part craft distillery, mix in a splash of local horticulture and garnish with a twist of Pittsburgh history.
The result: Wigle has been the most awarded craft distillery in the nation for three years running, as deemed by the American Craft Spirits Association.
They hope to strike gold (and silver and bronze) again when Threadbare Cider House & Meadery opens October 20 at 1291 Spring Garden Ave., two blocks down from their Spring Garden barrelhouse and whiskey garden.
“We have all the pieces to create a really worthy sister company to Wigle, where we can bring back this regional history, this heritage around cider,” says Meyer Grelli.
Meyer Grelli says the idea to create cider first came to them when they created an apple whiskey, Walkabout, four years ago.
“We found this immense potential in the local ‘ag’ scene to work with lots of different apples and yeast,” she says, adding that they have eight different apple brandys coming to market in the coming months, all “expressions” of different varietals.
At Wigle, the narrative centers around their namesake, Phillip Wigle, one of the rabble-rousing distillers who jumpstarted the Whiskey Rebellion. (He was later pardoned by George Washington.)
At Threadbare, the protagonist is John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed.
The man and his myth have conflated over the last 200 years, but there is no disputing that Chapman lived near Pittsburgh’s confluence in the mid-1790s, where he minded an orchard of apple trees ne
“He’s one the craziest, quirkiest Pittsburghers that we can lay claim to,” she says.
Family-friendly tours of Threadbare, with apple juice for the kids, will take place on Saturdays in an effort to expand local history to a new generation. Afterward, youngsters can play on an oversized Johnny Appleseed lite-brite while the grownups sample the wares.
Meyer Grelli calls the 10,500-square-foot ciderhouse “our best expression yet of what we hope to deliver in guest experience and customer experience.” The site includes office space for the Wigle team, as well as an additional 6,100-square-foot barrelhouse next door. There is seating for 150 inside the taproom.
Cider maker Brian Bolzan says that Threadbare wants to “redefine what American cider means.” Upon opening there will be three styles on tap (it takes time to barrel-age them), plus a rotating selection of local craft beer and a sizeable cocktail menu. The mead will take a bit longer to produce.
Jay Wess, formerly of Dinette, will head up the kitchen with a menu that is heavy on charcuterie and pizza. The pies come with a polenta or traditional crust (the yeast derived from apple leaves), and seasonal toppings include fennel and peach with preserved lemon, and for the carnivores, bacon and grilled onion with roasted apple.
Like everything else at Threadbare, the ingredients will be as locally-sourced and sustainably cultivated as possible.