One of my favorite things about autumn is that it's the perfect time to transition from bright summertime cocktails to sturdy brown spirits. I prefer Scotch and Irish whiskies, but Pittsburgh is quite clearly a bourbon town, and that's just fine.
Butcher and the Rye got a nice first-anniversary present when trade publication The Bourbon Review named the Downtown establishment one of America's 60 Best Bourbon Bars.
It's a well-deserved nod: Butcher's dramatic whiskey wall now has nearly 250 bottles of bourbon (plus 300 bottles of other whiskies), including some rare and indulgent finds, such as Four Roses 125th Anniversary and Elijah Craig 18-year.
Still, Butcher isn't the only bourbon game in town. Acacia, on East Carson Street; 1947 Tavern, in Shadyside; and Harvard & Highland, in East Liberty, are just a few of the other places for a great sip of the aged corn juice. Bourbon choices seem like they're expanding everywhere, and bartenders are getting more educated.
Eleven members of the Pittsburgh chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild just took a whirlwind, 48-hour tour of the region of Kentucky where most of the country's bourbon is produced.
"It was good to get up close and personal with the actual distilling process. You can read about it in books, but it's different to see it firsthand," says 1947 Tavern bartender Chris Matrozza.
The group visited the Four Roses, Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey, Maker's Mark and Jim Beam distilleries. They also stopped at the Independent Stave Company.
"That [barrel-making] might be one of the most painstaking and challenging jobs that could be down there," says Matrozza.
Matrozza say that the big takeaway from the trip was the deeper knowledge of bourbon culture he and the other USBG bartenders acquired. And that's bound to be a good thing for Pittsburgh bar-goers.