It's a bit of a trope that people drink to forget, but Aaron and I have found ourselves taking the opposite approach. What do I mean by that? Well, as we dived deeper into cooking over the last few years, we found ourselves buying the occasional bottle of liquor for various recipes (a cognac for Thanksgiving gravy, a bourbon for a cinnamon roll glaze) and found, not surprisingly, that there was a lot of variability in the quality of the liquor out there. That, in combination with the fact that we routinely drive between our home town in MA and our current homes in NY and PA, gave birth to a new hobby: distillery tastings.
Our curiosity was well-timed. The U.S. is experiencing a boom in craft breweries and distilleries, which means there are plenty of places to see and liquors to taste. Over the past few years, we've managed to visit 15 different distilleries, all without adding more than an hour or so to our typical route.
On reflection, it's probably the case that color-coding the map based on my favorite product tells you more about my favorite spirits (gin and whisky) than about the quality of the products at each of these distilleries. Ooops.
Anyway, the great side effect of visiting all these distilleries has been the ability to share our favorite bottles with our friends, which is what I meant when I said that Aaron and I tend to drink to remember. Although we certainly haven't bought a bottle at each distillery we've visited--part of the appeal for us is that distillery tastings are usually under $10--we've bought enough that our respective home bars are filled primarily with bottles that we've bought at distilleries, and so when we have people over for cocktails it's always nice to be able to share a little about where the main spirit in the cocktail came from. Moreover, it allows us to have an emotional connection to every bottle in our collection, which makes drinking them so much more enjoyable. In fact, at this point our hobby has become a bit of a known thing, and we now periodically set up tasting parties with friends who also visit distilleries, which has introduced me to some great products (St. George's Gin and Mad River's Maple Rum are two examples that come to mind).
With that said, I thought I would share a little bit about each of these distilleries with you, and I would be super excited to hear any recommendations you may have for other places for us to visit, or bottles to try!
Places Where We Have Purchased Bottles
- Berkshire Mountain Distillery: This is probably my favorite distillery. We went there because their Greylock Gin was rated the best craft gin in the country by the New York Times, so we were expecting to probably buy a bottle of that. Instead, we walked out with 5 bottles. That is the most alcohol we have ever bought at one time, ever. We bought a bottle of Greylock (and that was the one we finished the fastest), two bottles of their Ethereal gin (they take the Greylock gin and age it with additional seasonal botanicals, so each year the Ethereal gin is different), a bottle of bourbon and a bottle of rum. The rum was sweet and smooth and left your tongue with an impression of spice cookies. Mmmm.
- King's County Distillery: This was our most recent distillery visit, and Aaron's new favorite distillery. We were impressed by their tour, which was both informative and interesting--not all the tours we've been on are--and more impressed by their products. We ended up leaving with two bottles, a honey-infused moonshine (my pick) and a unique oat whiskey (Aaron's), although we had a hard time deciding on just those two. Also in the running were a cacao-infused moonshine (read: chocolate whisky!) and a peated bourbon which had a deep, sweet flavor profile backed by a foundation of mossy, smokey peat. Usually Aaron is the scotch drinker, but both of us loved this!
- Apple Country Spirits: We've visited Apple Country a few times, because a) they are only a half hour or so outside of Rochester and b) they make great products that stay true to the fresh fruit used to make them. The first time we went it was completely empty, and the bartender in the tasting room included a complementary cocktail in with our tasting. We left that day with a bottle of their Tree Vodka, even though I am normally more of a gin than a vodka person, which should give you an idea of how good it was. The vodka had an aftertaste of apples that made it great in a simple vodka tonic. Since then we've also bought bottles of their applejack and pear brandy.
- Myer Farm: Myer Farm has also been a repeat visit for us, even though it's a bit further out from Rochester. Instead, it's located in the Finger Lakes, which is a much prettier place and really great to visit if you are a fan of wineries (which I am, but that's a whole other post). Aaron and I noticed a great improvement in their products from our first visit to our second, which is impressive, because we liked them the first time. They specialize in infused liquors (their cinnamon gin was one of Aaron's favorite things ever). Last time we went we bought a big bottle of their standard gin--it's a great everyday gin--as well as a bottle of their four-grain whiskey. In checking out their website for this post it looks like they now have a cinnamon-infused rye whiskey, which sounds fabulous, so I will likely be back again soon.
- Sons of Liberty Distillery: Sons of Liberty was the first distillery Aaron and I ever visited. Their tours are funny and informative, and their whiskies are on point. I'm a fan of their Battlecry whisky, which is in the style of a rye, while Aaron prefers Uprising, which is more similar to a scotch. Because their whiskeys start with great beer mashes, they always retain some of the flavors of that beer. So Aaron’s Uprising, which starts with a chocolate stout, tastes just like a mouthful of chocolate! We were both impressed when we returned this past summer and tried their Grapefruit Hop flavored whisky, which we did not expect to like. Instead, we walked out with a bottle. Oops! The grapefruit whisky makes a great twist on your typical whisky sour--see the recipe for the one I made last night below.
- Cacao Prieto Distillery: Based in Brooklyn, Cacao Prieto is great because you not only get to taste some really impressive whiskies, but they also have fantastic bean-to-bar chocolate. Their whiskey is a bit on the pricey side, but Aaron couldn't help buying a bottle of Widow Jane bourbon. It's that good. The most impressive part of their lineup is the set of whiskeys based on heirloom varietals of corn—very unique!
- Newport Distilling Company: Aaron and I visited this distillery with our friends who were living in Newport at the time and we all had a really fun tasting. Probably the best part is that they let you taste the progression of the rum, from unaged to aged at cask strength to the final product. Also, if you are a beer afficionado (unlike me), they share space with Newport Storm brewery, which my friends were big fans of.
Places Where We Have Not Purchased Bottles (which doesn't mean you shouldn't)
- Hillrock Estate Distillery: I am so glad that Aaron and I went out to visit Hillrock. We didn't buy a bottle because their bourbon is very expensive, but it's expensive because it's good. Their bourbon goes through a unique aging process, a bit like having a sourdough starter, where bourbon is removed and added to the barrels periodically but the barrels are never emptied, making for a beautifully complex product. If that weren't enough, they then finish by aging it in sherry barrels, which add subtle fruit flavors. If you know someone who loves bourbon, buy this for them for a special occasion. Seriously.
- Finger Lakes Distilling Company: Although we didn't buy a bottle that day, I did seek out their Seneca Drums gin later, so potentially this distillery belongs in the other list. The Seneca Drums gin is a light, citrus-forward gin that works great in cocktails. I also enjoyed their McKenzie Rye, although I haven't purchased it.
- Tuthilltown Spirits: Aaron and I wanted to visit Tuthilltown because we had bought their Hudson Baby Bourbon and enjoyed it (so again, unclear as to whether this should be in the other list). Their bourbon has the most oak flavor of any bourbon we have tried, which works great in baked goods where you want to taste the bourbon after it cooks off. When we visited, we found that it remained our favorite product, although we were impressed by the cacoa and cassis liqueurs.
- New York Distilling Company: Another Brooklyn-based distillery, with a great bar outside. Aaron and I had mixed reactions to their products. I enjoyed the Perry's Tot classic style gin, but really did not like the Chief Gowanus new netherland style gin, which was essentially a gin made from a rye whiskey base, rather than a vodka base.
- Bully Boy Distillers: Aaron and I came here on a Father's day trip with our dads. Their bourbon is good and plays well in cocktails, but I think their most noteworthy product is probably the Hub Punch, a rum infused with orange, raspberry, lemon and other botanicals. The punch is an attempt to create a product from the early 1900s, and I could see it being a big hit at parties.
- Black Button Distilling: None of Black Button's products quite hit home with me. Their citrus-forward gin was a bit off balance, and I prefer Myer Farm's four grain whiskey. Aaron likes the lilac gin and says it is quite good, but he’s also biased because he has, as he would put it "a bit of a floral obsession". As in, he once bought a pound of culinary grade lavender off the internet. Anyway, I will say that the barrel-aged maple syrup at Black Button is fantastic, but $37 for maple syrup is too steep for me. They have put out some other products since I've been there that I haven't tried though, and I've heard good things about the Apple Pie moonshine.
- Big Spring Spirits: Like Black Button, I've yet to be really wowed at Big Spring Spirits. Of their products I prefer the spiced rum and the aged gin. However, they are really new. So we will see how the rest of their aged products turn out!
Grapefruit Gold Rush
After reading through all that, you deserve a drink. If you can get yourself to Sons of Liberty, pick up a bottle of their Grapefruit Hops Whiskey to make this cocktail. Otherwise, feel free to substitute a whiskey of your choice!
2 oz Grapefruit Hops Whiskey
3/4 oz honey
3/4 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until the metal becomes cold, and strain into a rocks glass. Add a big brain-shaped ice cube because you are a nerd, and enjoy!