Distilled in the USA
It takes a bit to convince me to jump on a plane, but when the American Distilling Institute (ADI) called us up and said “Hey! There’s a lot of interest in Australian spirits over here, would you guys mind coming over?” I took the chance to make a quick visit along with a healthy representation of our Australian contingent including Limeburners, Starward and Four Pillars. The culture of craft distilling in the US is incredibly strong and ranges from small operations making miniscule single batches to the big guys cranking out monumental volumes of spirit. In general, there are a lot of people just having a go and genuinely wanting to push the industry forward with new raw materials and techniques, which I find really exciting. Access to equipment, raw ingredients and resources feels much easier in the US than back home where it sometimes feels like we’re still chipping away at the frontier. This is all changing of course, but it’s a stark contrast to the state of the US spirits industry which is incredibly mature.
Aside from attending the ADI Craft Spirits Conference & Awards in Baltimore (which was the main reason we were there – read more about that here), I took the chance to swing by a couple of New York distilleries that are pushing the envelope in terms of innovation and generally cool booze. Here are a couple of highlights:
Widow Jane in Brooklyn’s Red Hook was number one on my list of distilleries to visit on the trip as I didn’t get the chance to visit last time I was there. It’s actually set up in a chocolate factory called Cacao Prieto, so there’s chocolate-making equipment everywhere and the whole place smells of this weird (but delicious) mix of chocolate, new make and oak. These guys are super interesting because they make the majority of their bourbon from singular varieties of rare heirloom corn which they either grow themselves or source locally from upstate New York - in some instances they’re even hybridising their own varieties! The yields from heirloom corn are much lower than the regular everyday corn we all know, but when tasting it you get a real sense of the specific variety that’s gone into it; it sometimes doesn’t even really taste like a bourbon. We always try to pick up something interesting for the Archie Rose Bar while we’re out and about so I packed a bottle of intensely red, super dry and Allspice-driven Bloody Butcher Single Expression Bourbon to bring home. I also added a bottle of Wapsie Valley Single Expression Bourbon which is strangely sweet but also very rich and almost malty. They’ll both be behind the Archie Rose Bar very soon. widowjane.com
Next up was King’s County inside the huge Paymaster Building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. I visited these guys on my last trip in 2013 and they’re still trucking along really well, except this time their beautiful Forsyths copper stills had arrived from Scotland – on my last visit they had been stuck in customs for quite some time. Ryan Ciuchta, King’s County’s head blender and production manager gave me a taste of some of the weirder stuff and I picked up three bottles including an Oat Whisky, single malt-inspired Peated Bourbon and their flagship Bottled-in-Bond release - a higher ABV and longer-matured version of their core bourbon. If you want to get super-geeky about what this actually means, Google the “Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897”. Short story is, it’s delicious, but the US is a quirky place. kingscountydistillery.com