A Boozy Q&A With The Owners Of Lucky Sign Spirits
Get to know your alcohol before attending the Pittsburgh Whiskey & Fine Spirits Festival.
Matt Brudnok and Christian Kahle know a lot about booze. The pair runs Lucky Sign Spirits, a Millvale-based microdistillery that’s racking up awards and getting ready to debut an 11,700-square-foot production facility and retail shop in Gibsonia. We asked the duo to answer some basic questions about libations so you can make the most of the Pittsburgh Whiskey & Fine Spirits Festival experience.
What is a spirit?
In the U.S., we consider any beverage that contains distilled alcohol a spirit. This includes straight spirits (ones without any additives, like whiskey and vodka) and also liqueurs, spirits that contain additives like flavoring and sugar (like Fireball, Kalua, Compari).
What’s the difference between ABV and proof?
In the U.S., ABV (alcohol by volume) and proof have a simple relationship: 2x ABV = proof. So a 50% ABV spirit will be 100 proof. In other parts of the world, proof can be measured in a variety of ways. It’s fairly close but not the same.
Does a beverage have to have a certain ABV/proof to be considered a spirit?
No. ABV varies wildly from low single digits for canned cocktails to nearly pure alcohol grain spirits. If it contains distilled alcohol it is considered a spirit.
How did you get into spirit-making?
By being a bad beer brewer. I tried making beer but it just never clicked with me. At the time I was starting to get more into scotch. I was reading about how it was made and it did click. I went to a ton of distilleries, local and outside the area, and learned through helping out.
How many different spirits does Lucky Sign produce?
Thirteen as of now. With our new space we plan on creating even more!
What is your favorite type of spirit and why?
Scotch. It just makes me happy to drink it. The smoke, the malt, everything. It’s a wonderful experience.
What’s the difference between whiskey, bourbon and scotch?
Whiskey is like a family name and bourbon and scotch are different members of that family. Bourbon is a U.S. spirit. By law, it is required to be at least 51% corn. Scotch is a Scottish spirit. It must be made with 100% malted barley. The biggest difference in flavor is that bourbon will have much more flavor from wood as it requires unused oak barrels. Scotch will use used barrels for a much lighter wood flavor. It will have a much different flavor and more of it will come from the base spirit versus the barrel.
In your opinion, what is the most approachable spirit for someone who is just dipping their toe into the culture?
Bourbon. One can find a wide variety of flavors, from gentle to strong. Do some research and ask around to find the lighter flavored ones to start developing one’s palate. “Tasting Whiskey” by Lew Bryson is a great book on learning how to start drinking whiskey.
Does the proper glassware really affect the taste?
Yes. It helps to separate the alcohol vapors from the aromas of the spirit. It lets you taste the spirit and not the alcohol as much. You can really discover nuances that otherwise would be covered by the alcohol.
Do you have advice for someone attending their first spirits festival who wants to taste as much as they can without getting hammered?
Before you get there, have a good-sized meal. Sip (don’t shoot!), go slow, drink a lot of water. You’re there to discover the aromas and flavors, not the alcohol. Alcohol is just a carrier.
Pittsburgh Magazine’s Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival begins at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 20 at the Event Center at Rivers Casino. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door (credit card sales only).