Posted By WinebyCai on May 16, 2013
It’s not always about wine. Generally, yes, but in recent months I’ve been hoisting the small batch distilling flag and having a lot of fun. It began last fall when I tried, for the first time, some serious American bourbon. I became infatuated and eager to learn more. I discovered over the next few months that many states had relaxed their licensing requirements so entrepreneurs could afford to build small-batch distilleries. Where in some states the old requirement was to pay a license fee of anywhere up to $40,000 now it was $2,000. Almost overnight you had young, brash, previously employed on Wall Street unemployed traders starting their own distilleries in run down areas of major cities all over the country. And it wasn’t just the amber nectar they were making; it was also gins and vodkas, bitters and vermouths. Couple that with a huge resurgence in the art of mixology (fancy name for a cocktail maker!) and these small, local distilleries became the height of haut couture.
About a month ago I took the bike down into the depths of Brooklyn to meet with an ex-mixologist of renown and now a distributor of hard to find small batch spirits. Mayur and I spent the afternoon tasting a very sizeable array of his ‘wunderkind’ spirits – from handmade cognac-like Mezcals to Uerige Dopplesticke Alt, a German barleywine. Along the way I learnt from the master exactly how Tequilas are made and why the locals will only drink ‘silver’ tequilas; why mescal is becoming the spirit connoisseurs drink of choice because of the distinctiveness of the agave plants’ varietal characteristics, and why a Nob Hill barber by day can create a 100% Rye whiskey by night that sells for $75 per small bottle. It was a fascinating day and I have now become a devoted follower of the small batch distillery movement.
This week my first shipment of these spirits arrived and I want to share with you some of my first thoughts about a few of them.
If you are a member of our Rye Whiskey Club you will be getting, in your next quarterly batch, the famous Zeppelin Bend Straight Whiskey. It’s produced by the New Holland Distilling Co. and made from 100% malted barley. Its double column distilled and aged in new, heavily-charred American oak for a minimum of 3 years. I got a combination of flint, clove and cinnamon on the nose and a super smooth, rich taste of toffee, caramel and fruit. Miniscule production and my allocation was a mere 18 bottles. If you are in the club you are lucky!
Ballast Point brewery has embarked upon an ambitious distilling program, applying its high standards and craft philosophy to producing seriously fine spirits. They use their brewery’s proprietary home-made yeasts to produce high-quality mashes for distillation and I purchased their Fugu Vodka. It’s not made from or distilled over the flesh and bones of the famous Fugu Blowfish but the name aptly describes the care and precision, just like the master sushi chef who cannot afford to cut the blowfish the wrong way, by which this vodka is made. It’s a wonderful addition to our small-batch vodkas.
Founded by the owners of Nantucket craft brewery Cisco, Gale Force Gin was first released in 2005. Using only natural ingredients this is a classic style gin with crisp juniper and citrus flavors, punctuated by a lasting peppery finish. It’s proofed at a very high 88.8% so go easy on it! The majority of the spirits made by the Nantucket brewery company remain on the island but because their reputation is becoming more well-known a very limited amount is made available to Mayur’s distribution company. I received 6 bottles.
The ultimate in farm to table distilling must be Peach Street Distillers. They literally take fruit harvested from their own fields to the still; none of the fruits used for fermentation mash ever see the inside of a refrigerator. I fell in love with their ‘Tub Gin’. It has a bold profile of juniper berry and a hint of citrus and coriander, but it’s very, very smooth. Great packaging, great fruit and a great Friday night pill.
I learnt something about Tequila that I never knew before. I had always thought that tequila was made by boiling up those huge leaves and that somehow the juice that was left made tequila. So completely wrong – bollocks, in the English vernacular. The only part of those huge plants that they use is the ‘heart’; the core of the inside of the plant. They cut out the hearts and roast them! And it’s all about the sweetness of the heart (isn’t it always?). Dulce Vida sources its 100% organic agave from the Los Altos highlands in the Tequila region of Mexico. Because of the unique climatic characteristics and the air and the soil, this area is well known for producing larger, fruiter, sweeter agave. I tasted all the versions of Dulce Vida and could quite happily have gone to bed immediately after. The organic Blanco is a full bodied and vibrant bianco. Lovely herbal citrus aroma and a crisp, spicy flavor with a hint of white pepper and a sweet agave finish. The Reposado is aged for 1 year in American bourbon barrels to create a light yellow-gold, medium bodied tequila. You taste a delicate agave, a little barrel wood combined with citrus and a strong fruit flavor. The Anejo is aged for 24 months (twice as long as required) in American whiskey barrels and it is a deliciously rich, amber-gold, color brimming with sweet mandarin and orange peel, hints of cinnamon and a sprinkle of vanilla. These were possibly the finest tequilas I have had the pleasure of tasting.
We are slowly creating one of the most exciting portfolios of small batch spirits in the area. These new spirits from our Brooklyn distributor combined with our 25+ limited inventory ryes and bourbons, vodkas and gins – I’m loving this stuff and it’s almost as exciting as finding a great bottle of wine!
Have a spirited weekend and remember…stay thirsty