Wine Geeks’ Geeky Spirits
When Wine Geeks sommelier Derek Todd announced he was getting into the spirits business you knew there had to be something geeky about it. There is.
“I was always interested in bringing in spirits but I wanted to remain consistent with what we do with wine,“ Namely, “find lines from small batch producers with an emphasis on natural ingredients .” He did.
“It’s not a matter of being geeky for geeks sake,” Todd told us. “It’s just that small batch producers tend to be really meticulous and committed to the flavors they’re producing. They try new ingredients and they don’t finish their products with chemicals and sugars. (By the way, the sugar is what gives you the hangover.) So they’re just a little more responsible about what they ask you to put in your body. And consequently their spirits are really delicious.”
A few years ago New York State lowered the cost of a distiller’s license to $1,000 and there was an explosion of new distillers opening up. “That’s when I got serious about spirits because I knew it was going to be a locavore’s delight. We have gin from Greenpoint, Brooklyn vodka and whiskey from Port Chester. And deliciously geeky spirits from all over the country each with its own amazing up by the bootstraps kind of story.” Then Derek started pouring and telling stories and here’s where we share them with you.
Industry Standard: Built in Brooklyn. Made by nerds. Their vodka is distilled from sugar beets grown and processed in the United States and fermented with a strain of yeasts originally selected from beet fields in France. But in the end it’s all about the flavor profile that on tasting opens in a warm smooth flavor and finishes with delicious fruit notes and hints of vanilla and a touch of spice. And the bottle and label look like they came off Mr. Gower’s pharmacy shelf in It’s a Wonderful Life. P.S. It’s a wonderful vodka.
Greenhook Gin Smiths: Not to be out-geeked, ginsmith Steven DeAngelo from Greenpoint, Brooklyn uses a custom made 300 Liter copper alembic still, engineered to work under a mercury vacuum to reduce atmospheric pressure allowing him to distill gins at lower temperatures than traditional distillation. According to DeAngelo, his idiosyncratic engineering marvel results in a magically purer and more aromatic spirit. We agree. His gin was so smooth … well … we could actually drink it. Not the biggest fans of gin are we, this quaff became an immediate What To Do fave-rave.
Comb Spirits: This Port Chester distiller makes everything from honey. Eschewing the traditional corn, wheat or potatoes, their Comb Vodka is made from orange blossom honey. Their Comb 9 gin, takes the essence of the honey spirit used in their vodka and redistills it with 9 different botanicals. Comb Blossom is their honey distilled brandy. Both their gin and vodka won gold medals from the Beverage Tasting Institute.
287 Whiskey: The locavorean dream team of Comb Spirits of Port Chester and Captain Lawrence Brewing Company of Pleasantville dreamed this one up one day sitting around drinking Freshchester Pale Ale. The thesis was, if beer is made from grains, whiskey is made from grains, whiskey mash is known as beer before it’s distilled … what if we made whisky from beer? Thousands of gallons of FPA later “287 Whiskey” was born boasting floral and malted barley notes blended with caramel and vanilla flavors.
Death’s Door Spirits: Here’s an inspirational story that’s worth a toast, or two. The 22 square mile Washington Island, Wisconsin was a farming community of 700 residents until vertical integration in the potato industry left them without contracts to grow their crops. After thirty years of churning population and economic drivers a small group of people planted five acres of hard red winter wheat to use as flour for a local hotel. Today the farm has grown to over 1200 acres and the wheat is used to make Death’s Door Gin, made with juniper berries that grow wild on the island, coriander and fennel; Death’s Door Vodka, double distilled and hand-cut with subtle notes of vanilla; and Death’s Door White Whisky – all made with organic local crops.
High West Distillers: According to Derek Todd, rye, once the most popular drink in America (before Prohibition) is back. Rye, the more assertive cousin of bourbon, inspired the cocktail the Manhattan before becoming an endangered spirit species in recent years. But Manhattan bartenders are pouring rye again and artisanal distillers are blending it – none better than High West Distillery in Park City, Utah. High West’s Double Rye is a marriage of a 2-year old and a 16 year-old rye that is best served neat thanks to its delicate balance of cinnamon, anise and honey. They also make a bourbon and rye blend called Bourye. Bourye is perpetually sold out but you can find Son of Bourye at Wine Geeks Armonk.
Suerte Tequila: This artisanal tequila producer from Jalisco, Mexico uses its own home-grown organic agave, pure spring water and traditional low temperature, slow cooking to create their line of premium tequilas: Suerte Blanco, Reposado, and Anejo which rests in white oak bourbon barrels for 24 months that delivers a mildly oaky presence with hints of berry, chocolate and mint.
Three more we liked:
When all was said and done we went home with Crop Harvest Earth’s Meyer Lemon Vodka from Minnesota. Crop Harvest Earth’s organic vodka, tagged as “the cleanest vodka,” was a double gold medal winner at the San Francisco Spirits Competition. Crop organic grain is harvested from soil free of artificial fertilizers, pesticides and chemicals and is distilled so efficiently that no carbon treatment or charcoal filtering is required. (And you thought that was a good thing.) And it is good! We served it straight, un-chilled and it was smoother than ice, purer than the driven snow. They also make a cucumber, tomato and an unflavored vodka.
We also took home a bottle of Corretto Coffee Liqueur from Roundhouse Distillers. Of course, they use organic free trade coffee beans, sourced by a blind barista. (Wouldn’t you?) It is sweetened with a touch of whole vanilla bean (compared to commercial brands that use-–ugh!– corn syrup) and it comes in at half the calories as the big brand stuff. And it is delicious. We mixed it with El Dorado Spiced Rum (a much subtler Caribbean style rum from Guyana, and a steal at $13 a bottle) from Wine Geeks and blended it with Haagen Dazs chocolate-chocolate-chip ice cream for a creamy after-dinner spike. So good, we drank it twice.
Wine Geeks/Spirit Geeks? Is there a name change in the future? Derek Todd says, “not likely” but “Carol and I have mixed ourselves a few special cocktails recently and we plan on doing it again, soon.”