Less is more at Union Pig and Chicken | Drink | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Less is more at Union Pig and Chicken

The cocktail list includes a solitary entry: Rock and Rye.


Forget vodka, gin, or tequila ... you won't even find Scotch on the pared-down liquor list at the new Union Pig and Chicken. The spirits on the menu at Kevin Sousa's new East Liberty BBQ joint are all American whiskeys, including bourbon and rye. The beer, meanwhile, is all made at local East End Brewery.

Yet there's plenty of room of variety. 

"If all I had were Jack Daniels and Jim Beam, no one would give a shit," general manager Jessica Keyser says. In fact, neither label even appears on the menu, which offers instead a tight list of handpicked labels.

The cocktail list is even more focused. It includes a solitary entry: Rock and Rye. Never heard of it? Keyser says it used to be a popular drink, but remains "one of the few cocktails that hasn't made a comeback yet."

Rock and Rye was originally created as a medicinal cure-all. Rock candy — the "rock" — was infused with herbs and fruit as a way of getting kids to take their medicine.

At Union Pig and Chicken, the Rock and Rye is made with Old Overholt rye. Although the rye is produced in Kentucky, it has a local connection: It was first distilled near Pittsburgh, and is named for Henry Frick's grandfather.

Keyser plans on having two versions of the cocktail — fruity and savory —on the menu at all times. The current fruity version is infused with flavors of tangerine, thyme and sage honey. The fragrance is tangerine, but when tasted, the rye hits first, the middle is sweet herb, and the finish rounds back to the tangerine. The savory version (smoked onion, black pepper, maple syrup) is a totally different experience. Here, the rye is muted; the smoke flavor is comforting, while the onions add a surprising harmony.

Look for the infusions to rotate frequently, especially during the growing season. "The Rock and Rye," Keyser says, "gives us a bit of leeway for creativity."

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