Tim Russell at Maggie’s Farm Rum (photo by Wendy Pramik)
Food + Drink

The Epiphany that Created Maggie’s Farm Rum

Tim Russell shares his audacious journey of defiance that helped him start what is now a fixture in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. 

Distillery owner Tim Russell recalls the precise moment he decided to chuck his day job and begin producing rum for a living.

It was after a long, boring meeting at his job for a defense contractor in Uniontown, Pa., when Russell trudged back to his office and flipped on the radio. He heard Rage Against the Machine’s version of the Bob Dylan tune “Maggie’s Farm,” a sonic harvest of defiance against conformity.

“I had an epiphany when I heard that song,” Russell says. “I had nothing to lose at that point, so I went for it.”

He decided to call his distillery Maggie’s Farm, which has morphed into Maggie’s Farm Rum, highlighting the distillery’s flagship offering. In the decade since Russell’s inspiring moment, Maggie’s Farm has become a beloved destination in Pittsburgh and has gained national prominence as a top U.S. rum maker.

Nestled at the northern edge of Pittsburgh’s downtown Strip District, Maggie’s Farm Rum stands tall in its unassuming warehouse abode. Its artisanal spirits, represented on their labels by an eccentric skeleton about to take a swig, match the neighborhood’s gritty charm.

Enter the distillery’s walls (once you find it — the sign is rather small), and you’ll notice distinctive aromas that dance through the air as copper pot stills work their alchemical magic, transforming turbinado sugar and water into liquid gold. Soon, there will be more space inside. Russell is moving production to neighboring Upper St. Clair, which will allow the distillery to increase production.

That location will include a new bar and restaurant, allowing for Russell to expand the current bar.

Visitors often have come from the Strip District’s other two distilleries — Wigle Whiskey and Kingfly Spirits. While those producers specialize in whiskey and other spirits, Maggie’s Farm’s product line is mostly about rum.

Liquid Gold Rum from Maggie’s Farm in Pittsburgh (photo by Wendy Pramik)

The Difference is the Sugar

Russell’s journey began with unaged, white rum crafted from turbinado sugar, a daring departure from the processed molasses that forms the backbone of most rums. Maggie’s Farm uses Caribbean-derived yeast and slowly ages distillate in pot stills. One expression, produced in concert with noted Pittsburgh-area tiki bar Hidden Harbor, was named the top white rum of 2021 in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

The adventure continued with Maggie’s Farm Spiced Rum, which contains a symphony of flavors composed of whole ingredients — Tahitian vanilla beans, freshly grated orange zest and cinnamon sticks — with no added sweeteners diluting its flavor.

Maggie’s Farm then released a pineapple-infused rum and a daring “50-50” blend, marrying its own white rum with a dark, sourced counterpart. Aged rums slowly began to emerge, including a velvety dram aged for three years in ex-Oloroso sherry casks.

The distillery’s crown jewel is five-year aged rum, earning double golds the past two years in the World Spirits Competition. While that expression quickly sells out, Russell unveils a new chapter each year on Black Friday to satiate the palates of local rum aficionados.

Maggie’s Farm also produces a few liqueurs, most notably the tiki staple falernum, made with the distillery’s cane-based spirit rather than neutral-grain spirits that others typically employ. It’s the distillery’s best-selling product by volume and is available in Ohio.

“A lot of customers wondered why we would make rum in Pittsburgh,” Russell says. “Making bourbon and rye whiskey was the original plan, but the aging time for a quality product was a concern, and I just fell in love with rum. After almost 10 years, I still haven’t distilled a drop of actual whiskey.”

In a world where everybody wants you to be just like them, Russell and Maggie’s Farm have dared to chart a different course. It seems they’ve created a recipe for success.

3212A Smallman St., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15201, maggiesfarmrum.com


Kingfly Spirits exterior (photo by Wendy Pramik)
Spirited Treasures: Pittsburgh’s Strip District distilleries

Rum lovers visiting Pittsburgh should seek out Maggie’s Farm Rum distillery in the northern section of the Strip District. There are two other distilleries in the heart of the Strip that also beckon spirits enthusiasts.

Wigle Whiskey was the city’s first new distillery since Prohibition when it opened in 2011. It sources grain from local farmers and uses the products for its bourbon, rye and a host of other spirits and bottled cocktails. A distillery tour includes an entertaining tale about the company’s namesake, a key figure in the Whiskey Rebellion of the late 18th century.

Kingfly Spirits offers whiskey, gin, vodka, rum and a line of liqueurs inside a lushly renovated carriage house. It’s a magnet for locals in search of an inspiring space for events, but its bar and seating areas are inviting to visitors. A favorite is house-made limoncello, a sweet-tart liqueur combining zesty lemon notes with a subtle, sugary sweetness.

Proof Magazine is for Ohio spirit lovers. It is produced by Great Lakes Publishing three times a year. Dont miss an issue by subscribing to Ohio MagazineView a digital version of the Proof Magazine Summer 2023 edition here