As supply chain issues continue to Grinch businesses while the world rolls into the 2022 winter holidays, Pittsburgh’s Maggie’s Farm Rum easily could have been forced to cancel its very popular tradition that is its housemade eggnog.
The problem wasn’t the rum or eggs or dairy that are in it.
The problem was the plastic jugs that the concoction is sold in.
Way before November arrived, Tim Russell, co-owner of the Strip District distillery, was thinking ahead about packaging. Especially during the peaks of the COVID-19 pandemic and the widespread materials and product shortages that followed, planning ahead further than usual has paid off for his business.
It still was mojito season when he started thinking about eggnog, a labor-intensive mix of its 50/50 Dark Rum blend, raw egg yolks and egg whites, milk, cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar and Maggie’s own vanilla extract made for its spiced rum.
The recipe is one Russell’s wife, Layla, perfected when she was managing the bar. Customers love it so much that the distillery was selling out of it to serve there and to go nearly every day this past holiday season.
“We started bottling it in quart jugs for takeout when the bar was closed in 2020 during the pandemic, and they took off,” Tim Russell says. “It was a big source of revenue when we couldn’t count on sit-down drink sales. Last year we sold over 500 quarts just for takeout alone, and we were still turning people away almost every day when it ran out.” So the place purchased a bigger mixer and mixing vessels for this year’s release.
Alas, the distillery’s usual supplier was out of the jugs this summer and didn’t know when it would get them again. “No one else had anything similar,” Russell recounts. “All we could find were larger jugs, but we had already ordered labels with the 32-ounce volume identified.” At the end of October, still no jug joy. Russell, who also sells ready-to-drink cocktails and seltzer in cans, considered that, “but canned eggnog doesn’t seem right.”
Pondering who else might have the quart-size plastic jugs, he naturally thought of dairies, and he thought of a friend from back home in Uniontown who’s a manager at United Dairy, formerly Fike’s Dairy, there. Despite the seeming shortage, the dairy was happy to sell him as many empty jugs as he wanted.
He wanted a LOT.
“I played it safe with a big round number, probably three years’ worth just to be safe,” he says. He may have overshot.
“I had to Tetris them into our delivery van,” he says about his early November pickup. “Even the passenger seat was full to the floorboards.”
He posted some fun photos of that on Facebook and triumphantly announced that the holiday had been saved. “It’s a Christmas miracle!”
Customers’ comments confirmed. “May have to do a road trip from North Carolina,” wrote one.
Earlier this week, former bar man-turned-production worker Jake Henriksen, who as his boss puts it still is “in charge of nog,” started building up some inventory before eggnog release day on Black Friday, Nov. 25. That happens to be the ninth anniversary of the opening of Maggie’s Farm Rum, aka Allegheny Distilling, which has put Pittsburgh on the map as a place that makes mucho award-winning, world-class rums.
Maggie’s soon will be making more of them and other spirits and products. Last month, Russell officially announced the purchase of a new production facility that is being built in a former wig factory in Upper St. Clair.
The 22,000-square-foot project is expected to be finished in early 2023 at a total cost of about $4 million, jointly financed between Enterprise Bank and the Regional Development Funding Corp. Not only will production — of rums, and seltzer and more — move to Upper St. Clair, but also the new space will have a tasting room with a cocktail bar and kitchen.
The plan is to keep the original Strip District space open as a cocktail bar and retail store. In the meantime, that’s where you can buy eggnog by the drink and by the jug to go for as long as supplies last, which they hope will be at least until Christmas. Black Friday hours are noon to 10 p.m. Eggnog sells for $12 at the bar, $28 for a quart to go, because, well, we all know how expensive eggs and milk are.
Russell is delighted with all these expansion plans, including the part where he has plenty of space to lay in pallets of sugar cane, bottles and, yes, plastic jugs.
“I saw the importance of ownership and investing in ourselves to preserve our future,” he noted in a news release. “Our customers’ continued support through one of the toughest small business climates in history gave me the confidence to take a much bigger step on a property than planned and build out a state-of-the-art distillery in a space that should support our growth for many more years.”
Bob, a feature writer and editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is currently on strike and serving as interim editor of the Pittsburgh Union Progress. Contact him at email@example.com.