BY CAROLYN ONOFREY
The Village Voice hosted its first Holiday Spirits tasting event appropriately, on the night the prohibition act was repealed in 1933. The event featured some of the best local distilleries in the New York area, most only established in the past two years due to a huge influx in the craft/micro distilling scene.
It is a great time to be a part of this movement and most in the business agree; this is not just a trend. Representatives from Atsby Vermouth and Greenhook Ginsmiths both agree that the huge inrush of micro distilleries will serve to weed out the weak – whose product just isn’t up to par – making way for a new brand of the hard stuff. Produced in small batches with quality ingredients and specialized distilling methods, now is a very exciting time in the world of alcohol. This generation’s version of the bartender, the mixologist (and home cocktail enthusiasts alike) have upped the ante in search of the new and the better (or is it the tried and the true of decades past?), propelling their cocktail making to new heights (there is after all, only so much you can do with well vodka).
Highlights from the Village Voice event included tastings fromAtsby’s Vermouth, Greenhook Ginsmiths, and Dutch’s Spirits, all featuring a new, old-world take on their respective focus.
Atsby’s Vermouth changed the way I thought about what vermouth is and should be – a well-balanced liquor of fortified wine and botanicals. Vermouth is no longer a hasty splash in my martini, but instead a drink to be sipped and enjoyed all on its own. Atsby’s two styles of vermouth, the Amberthorn and the Armadillo Cake provide a pleasing drink, whatever your mood and are a nod to both the grungy underbelly of New York at the turn of the last century (Atsby’s – an acronym for the Assembly Theaters on Broadway) and to the present (and hopefully the future) – a time when the elevated cocktail has a place – something that we can be both proud to serve AND to drink.
The Greenhook Ginsmith’s also currently have just two products (and quality products they are); the world’s first beach plum gin (a local riff on England’s Sloe Gin) and an American Dry. Both, the most fragrant gin I have ever encountered, sweet and inviting, due to a low temperature vacuum distillation process which preserves the aromatics in the alcohol and provides us a purer drink. The stand out for me in this pair was the American Dry, which has since become a staple in my liquor cabinet (where I also quickly retired my tonic water). Fragrant, smooth, and full of flavor – yet not for the faint of heart.
Dutch’s Spirits goes the moonshine and bitters route on the footprint of an age-old moonshine distillery in upstate New York. Think Northerners are inept in the moonshine department? Think again. Dutch’s Sugar Wash Moonshine packs a punch and is quite the versatile drink (check out some recipes here). I had the opportunity to try each of Dutch’s three styles of bitters with a bit of moonshine, and decided that I could see myself sipping on a cocktail with any of them. The Colonial, Boomtown, and ProhiBitters each have a distinct flavor profile sure to spruce up your next cocktail.
There were so many more notable distilleries at the event, each with its own unique product – Scorpion Mezcal and Nahmias et Fils, for example – too many to list them all and too many to even try in just one night. What I was most taken with the event was the passion which filled the room. This micro-distillery (or whatever you’d like to call it) thing is still new enough that the scantily-clad promo girls aren’t the ones selling the liquor – it’s the men and women who have poured countless hours into crafting what they think is the perfect booze. It’s their passion and their vision all while possessing the utmost respect for the rich history that comes with the territory. The roaring 20s have certainly come back with a vengeance (sans the actual act of prohibition) and with it, the idea that we can enjoy the cocktail again. Cheers.