Exchange Whiskey Trail

Bottles of Overheat Rye Whiskey from 1905 are on display at the West Overton Village's Distillery Museum on Thursday, June 13, 2019, at the West Overton Village in Scottsdale. West Overton Village was founded in 1800 and grew into a self-sufficient village via distilling rye whiskey. This summer, the museum will start producing rye whiskey in their new still as part of the visitor experience. (Stephanie Strasburg/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

PITTSBURGH — The Whiskey Rebellion Trail just launched will connect for booze and history tourists 75-plus cultural sites and craft distilleries from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia, with lots of intoxicating views and visits in between.

The route is this region's version of Kentucky's booming Bourbon Trail, but aims to share an even older story — the "first chapter of American whiskey" when Colonial-era settlers in this region turned their rye into whiskey and then rebelled in the early 1790s when the new federal government taxed them on it.

"This is truly the only region in America that can tell that story," says Meredith Meyer Grelli, co-owner of Pittsburgh's Wigle Whiskey, who led the effort to create a trail.

Her Strip District-based business, named for a figure convicted for treason in the Whiskey Rebellion, helped recently revive Pennsylvania rye from the dead. This trail takes the story forward, too, with stops at "modern whiskey rebels" — other new craft distilleries in Pennsylvania, Maryland and the Washington, D.C., area that "represent one of the most prolific craft-producing regions in the country."

The attraction is a collaboration of many partners — distilleries (including the rebellion-themed Liberty Pole Spirits in Washington, Pa.), museums (the Smithsonian Institution), tourism agencies (Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau) and government (Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development).

In addition to the Smithsonian and its affiliated Senator John Heinz History Museum in Pittsburgh, the trail's "highlighted partner cultural institutions" are the Bradford House Museum in Washington, Pa; George Washington's Mount Vernon in Fairfax, Va.; Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia; and West Overton Village & Museums in Westmoreland County.

The startup and first three years are being funded by destination marketing organizations including VisitPittsburgh. The trail's fiscal sponsor for now is the Johnstown, Pa.-based Community Foundation of the Alleghenies, and the goal is to have the trail be a free-standing, self-supporting entity.

VisitPittsburgh's president & CEO, Craig Davis, who is a founding member of the trail's advisory board, said in a news release, "We see the Trail as a wonderful way to show off our region's rich history as well as its emergence as an area with something for everyone ... ."

Museums and distilleries don't pay to be part of the trail, but they do offer discount admissions and tastings and other perks. They then get a portion of the proceeds of sales of passes. Some proceeds also support the trail.

Users will go to a website (that will go live on Friday) and choose one- or three-day passes in various regions that give them itineraries to follow and admission to those museums and tours, cocktails and flights at those distilleries. A pass for the entire trail — good for a year — also will be available. Passes are sent to users' mobile phones, but users don't need any kind of app.

"We want this to be seamless for guests," says Grelli, who says the regional passes will range in price from $25 to $149.

Organizers are still finalizing the prices and the website, which has been built by Bandwango, a Salt Lake City company that has used its "destination experience engine" to build 50 such trails and other sites, but not one this extensive.

"This is really a unique scenario," says one of Bandwango's founders, Monir Parikh. "This is really the first of its kind, where there's a partnership between multiple destination marketing organizations to create a cohesive trail."

People can partake in amounts that suit them. At the Pittsburgh end of the trail, they can buy a pass to see some 20 attractions over three months, or do smaller pieces, such as a Strip District walking tour, or a "countryside" one.

The site isn't just about e-commerce, Parikh says, but also is meant to be informational and weaves in a timeline of regional whiskey events from the start of the rebellion in 1791 to the present day.

Grelli and especially her Wigle colleague Teresa DeFlitch reached out to hundreds of prospective partners. The trail can be quickly tweaked and updated. As DeFlitch puts it, "It's a living site."

While the starting focus is on craft distilleries and museums, organizers intend to add bars, restaurants and hotels "as part of the complete passport offering," she says.

The hope is that it will generate tourism like the popular Kentucky Bourbon Trail does. That trail was started in 1999 by the Kentucky Distillers' Association, which in 2012 added the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour. In five years, the trails and 29 distilleries on them have drawn more than 2.5 million visitors, who spent a lot of money.

Grelli foresees visitors who do that trail wanting to also visit the Whiskey Rebellion Trail and vice versa.

"It's an exciting concept," says Tripp Kline, one of the organizers of the Whiskey Rebellion Festival in Washington, Pa., and the Bradford House Museum, both of which are on the trail.

It may take a while to see how many tourists the trail brings to Washington, Pa., but he says, especially with good and sustained marketing, "I think it can only be a positive. ... We have a real history that a lot of people don't know about."

For more information on the Whiskey Rebellion Trail, visit www.whiskeyrebelliontrail.com. — (The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

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