A Boozy History Lesson on the New Whiskey Rebellion Trail

If you think Kentucky was the birthplace of American whiskey, you’re not alone—but you’re also not right. A newly opened initiative called the Whiskey Rebellion Trail is focused on bringing the spotlight back to the Mid-Atlantic—from Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C.—as the rightful birthplace of whiskey distilling in the United States.

The trail, which just opened to the public on July 12, currently includes 75 stops and serves as an interactive history lesson that brings visitors through museums, galleries, and some of the best craft distillers in the region to understand the spirit’s origins and significance within American history.

One person helping to lead the charge is Meredith Meyer Grelli, the co-owner of Wigle Whiskey in Pittsburgh—currently the most awarded whiskey distillery in the country.

“We started Wigle [in 2012] as a family business to bring back a regional identity to western Pennsylvania,” Grelli tells Men’s Journal. The roots of American whiskey can be traced back centuries to the Monongahela Valley, where Monongahela rye became the first from the U.S. to gain widespread recognition. “We wanted to make great spirits but also bring back this history and identity—to tell an important story about American history.”

Wigle Whiskey Barrelhouse and Whiskey Garden
Courtesy Image

To complete the full trail, you’ll need to make your way through the four major cities involved in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1790—Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C., as well as many smaller communities and some bucolic Pennsylvanian countryside. “We’ve tried to create the trail in the most flexible way possible,” says Grelli. “A ticket to the master path gives you a full year to experience all 75 distilleries and museums.”

Don’t want to commit to the full tour? They also have regional passes that focus on a smaller geographical area intended to be completed in a weekend or in a single day. In each of the four cities, you’ll find a distillery tour that’ll lead you through the main whiskey producers in the area, and one tour that even follows a train path outside of Pittsburgh. “There are passports for those who are more interested in spirits, and some for those who are more interested in the historical side of things.”

Pro tip: Don’t discount the history. It stands as the only time in our country’s past that a sitting president led troops against their own citizens. The story starts with Alexander Hamilton. He decided to place the country’s first excise on whiskey, and the citizens reacted in the most American way possible—by punching a federal tax collector in the face. It was Phillip Wigle who threw that punch, inciting four years of protests and riots that culminated in President George Washington leading 13,000 troops to Pittsburgh to arrest essentially every man in town.

Washington County Whiskey Rebellion Festival
Courtesy of Washington County Whiskey Rebellion Festival

To learn how the story concludes, get on the tour. “We get to tell all these stories through whiskey,” says Grelli. “It’s the first chapter of American whiskey, and one that only this Mid-Atlantic region can tell.”

There’s much to look forward to. As early as next year, bars, restaurants, and hotels will be incorporated into the experience.

“We’re also launching our biggest project yet [at Wigle], tripling the size of our distillery to provide more interactive experiences,” she adds. Starting this fall, you’ll really be able to interact with the history of whiskey of western Pennsylvania at our distillery.”

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