The Best Spirits from the NYC Indie Spirits Expo 2018

Its that time of year again– New York City Indie Spirits Expo! As you might remember, last year I covered my top ten favorite spirits from the festival. This year there were even more spirits and even less time to taste, so I prioritized trying booze from new and different distilleries.

Here are some of the exceptionally interesting spirits that I loved and that you should try if you have the chance:


Catoctin Creek Rye — Cask Strength

This was my favorite spirit of the night. Coming from Purcellville, Virginia, it’s made from entirely organic rye. It’s aged in 30 gallon barrels, and it’s amazing.

The nose has a little bit of the pear smell that’s also present in single malts, but it’s more robust and buttery. It certainly has some of the classic rye spices on the taste, along with green apple, tobacco and port wine notes.

The cask strength is limited release, but the 92 proof and 80 proof versions are more easily available, and delicious as well. They are a little bit sweeter and slightly bourbon-y, even though they’re all 100% rye.

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Berkshire Mountain Distillers — Bourbon Smoke and Peat

If you like bourbon and smoky Islay scotch, you’d be missing out if you didn’t try this.

To make the Berkshire Bourbon Smoke and Peat, the distillers start with their bourbon recipe, made with locally sourced corn, and after it’s been aged in new oak, it’s put it in freshly used Laphroaig casks.

(For us whiskey nerds, the mash bill is 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% barley)

The nose is light and floral, more like a bourbon. Just smelling it, you’d have no idea that it’s flavor is primarily smoked peat over a classic, vanilla-y bourbon, with a little bit of wood spice. Berkshire Bourbon and Peat is a perfect merging of scotch and corn whiskey. It’s like when two celebrities have a gorgeous, smart baby that looks like it might take over the world someday. Like George and Amal Clooney’s babies. That’s what this is like.

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The Real McCoy Rum

Well, I’m fudging things a little bit here, because all their aged rums are great. The 5 year rum is more like a bourbon, but the 12  year is on the more on the spicy, grassy, tobacco side while still being sweet. All their products have slight sea air and coconut notes, which I was told is from the particular water source they use in Barbados. The 10 year limited is a little on the unique side because it’s a blend of years, the youngest of which is 10 years old. It’s more molasses and eucalyptus-y, but only 3000 bottles were released, so good luck finding that one before it’s gone! I have Foursquare Distillery’s Port Cask aged rum at home which is super tasty, and could nearly fool you for a whiskey. That one’s limited too, but my point here is that any rum you get from The Real McCoy/Foursquare Distillery is bound to be worth it.

Aside from all the good things their rum does for your taste buds, Foursquare Distillery is also a no-waste distillery. Their labels are made from recycled paper, they take the leftover distillate, filter it and use it to water the sugar cane which eventually becomes rum. They’ve really thought it all out.

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Breuckelen Distilling — Bottled in Bond First Release Wheated Bourbon Project

I’d tried Breuckelen’s Local Rye and Corn before (it’s great, btw), but I had no idea that they don’t regularly do bourbon. I was even more confused that they don’t regularly do bourbon when I tried their bourbon project, because it’s fantastic. How does a distillery that doesn’t regularly do bourbon make a bourbon like….. this? And this is their first bourbon project too. What.

It’s rosy and floral, dry and grain-forward, with hints of cherry medicine. Looking at that description you’re probably thinking that it doesn’t sound much like a bourbon. Well, looking at the mash bill, its 60% corn, 20% red wheat, 20% barley. That red wheat makes a huge difference and creates an entirely different flavor profile than a normal bourbon.

It’s a limited release, and I’m waiting on the edge of my seat for whenever they put out a next one.

(Hey, Breuckelen distillers, if you’re reading this, could you make an Empire Rye? Pretty please?)

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Barking Irons Applejack

I didn’t even know Applejack was a thing until this past year, but it’s been around as long as the New World, and Barking Irons is carrying on that tradition. It started long ago when apples were one of the cheapest and easiest things to grow, and people froze apple cider barrels to remove the water. Voila, that’s the invention of Applejack!

Barking Irons Applejack is made from New York apples, and left to age in 10 gallon barrels (that’s small!). The finished product is one that’s heavy on the tongue with apple flavor–obviously– but also some baking spices, saltine cracker, and a little bit of savory cheese notes like you might get from a Barbera wine. I haven’t had many Applejacks, but this one is definitely top of my list.

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Balsam Private Reserve Vermouth

When I think of vermouth, I think of a Manhattan or a Martini. I generally don’t think of it as something to be had by itself, but that’s actually how you should be drinking vermouth, or at least good vermouth.

The Private Reserve Vermouth is certainly one that you can drink by itself; it feels almost like a cocktail in a bottle. A little tangy and funky like kombucha, a hint of savoriness and apricots. It’s the world’s first hand-picked, ice-wine-based vermouth, y’all. This is big.

I only had the chance to try one of their vermouths, but Balsam makes plenty more, an Amaro even. I think this whole concept is very fascinating because many people want to go straight into the whiskey business because that’s where all the buzz is, but there’s very interesting spirits to be had which aren’t being talked about enough.

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Don Ciccio & Figli — Finocchietto Artisanal Fennel and Dill Liqueur

Speaking of hidden gems of spirits, Don Ciccio & Figli are making very unique Italian spirits out of Washington D.C. The family business has real Italian roots in the Amalfi coast, and they’re continuing traditions and carrying on family recipes today.

Finocchietto means “wild fennel” and this liqueur is made of fennel and dill. I’d say that it’s most distinctive flavor is dill, but if you keep sipping, you get absinthe notes from the fennel. There’s hints of sweet pea and black licorice as well. It’s an absolutely unique kind of spirit that I didn’t know existed before the Indie Spirits Expo, and next time I’m in D.C. I’ll be down to their tasting room to try the rest of their products.

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I ran out of time to try Black Dirt Distillery‘s products, but it’s okay because I have a bourbon and a rye of theirs at home! I am eagerly awaiting their Empire Rye, which I expect will be phenomenal, as is customary with anything made at Black Dirt Distillery.


If you’re lucky enough to try any of these spirits, or if you’ve already tried them, I’d be interested to hear what you think. As always, I’m open for suggestions and recommendations as to what I should try or review next.

And now, I sit and wait until next year’s Indie Spirits Expo. 363 days to go.

Review: Portland’s New Deal Distillery

Portland, Oregon is world famous for the sheer numbers of breweries in the city—more than any other city in the world. But there are also an insane amount of distilleries too. Part of the city is even called “Distillery Row.” I managed to visit 6 venues in the 2 days I was there, which is impressive because that’s a lot of hard liquor for one person to drink. Should I put that on my resume?

Anyway, out of the 6 I visited, one stood out above the rest: New Deal Distillery. That’s not to say that the others weren’t good; each has its own niche. However, New Deal Distillery excels in multiple niches.

They started out in 2004, as a vodka distillery, and have expanded into making gin, whiskey, rum and a variety of flavored vodkas and liqueurs. They were the first distillery in what is now “Distillery Row” and the second in Portland as a whole.

I never thought that the water used in making liquor had an effect because it’s all purified before it’s used, right? Why should one water with the chemical formula H20 taste any different from other water with the same chemical formula? When I was tasting all these different liquors, there was a common unidentifiable note between all of them not present in other boozes. I asked where their water comes from, figuring this was the source of the mysterious taste (or non-taste? it’s really hard to describe); apparently the water comes from Bull Run Watershed. This is the purest water source in the entire United States— unlike the Hudson river which is one of the most polluted. Without a scientific study, I guess I won’t know for sure if the water actually makes a difference. But at least I have a hypothesis.

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The Vodkas

New Deal Distillery makes 2 kinds of vodka.

Portland 88 Vodka is made for mixing. It has a clean flavor that makes it versatile for a wide range of cocktails. If you want a vodka to hide in your Cosmo and get you drunk, this should do the trick.

If you’re the kind of person who wants a vodka for sipping, they make one for you too: New Deal Vodka. It is unbelievably smooth and well-rounded, with a minimal amount of the harsh ethanol flavor. Mainly it’s on the sweeter side, and slightly mineral. It’s only been distilled two times, so it still has plenty of flavor, but the good kind. It’s hard to find a vodka that doesn’t make you wince; the only thing New Deal Vodka makes you do is crave a martini.

The Rums

Both rums are agricole style, meaning they’re made with sugar cane juice rather than molasses. In fact, they’re both the same rum but one is aged for two years.

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The unaged rum is mineral and dry. It has a green, slightly grassy flavor. There is a hint of ginger in both the scent and the taste. It’s fresh and would be great in a mojito or any tropical rum-based cocktail.

The aged rum has an intriguing duality. The scent is more fresh, with a faint bit of smokiness from the barrel. The taste is primarily barrel notes– some of the same you get from bourbon. It has a little bit of the minerality, like the unaged rum, but it’s mostly hidden. In spite of all the barrel brings to the table, it’s still remarkably fresh. If I were making a cocktail with this one, I would try a dark and stormy or maybe Planter’s punch.

The Gins

Luckily for me, even though I was just expecting to taste while I was there, I got a special chance to see the where the distilling happens, and the gin being hand labeled.

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How cool is that?

I didn’t try the Portland Dry Gin 33 straight, the one that you can see being labeled above. But, I tried it in a Negroni Blanc, another fantastic way to drink gin. (As if there’s a wrong way?) You may know this cocktail as “Negroni Bianco” or “White Negroni”. Whatever you call it, it’s frickin’ amazing, and the best one I’ve ever had it was in New Deal. It’s definitely sweeter than your classic bitter Negroni, and this one was citrusy for sure.

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The citrus isn’t just from the lemon peel garnish. The only botanicals in both Portland Dry Gin 33 and New Deal Gin No. 1 are juniper berries and citrus peel. This is endearingly minimalist, because I think there are plenty of gins out there that are just terribly bogged down by an endless list of botanicals.

New Deal Gin No. 1 is lightly colored. This is not due to barrel aging as I first assumed (get it together, Kim, geez!) but rather because some of the juniper and citrus oils are allowed to remain in the gin, giving it that yellow-y, green tint. It’s almost sweet but mostly fresh, and the flavor covers the tongue for a long finish.

The Whiskies

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The most recently released whiskey at New Deal is Distiller’s Reserve Oregon Straight Wheat Whiskey. It is quite dry and medium-bodied because it was aged on char #1 barrels. It has oak and honey on the nose, but minimal sweetness on the palate.

From the Distiller’s Workshop series, the Smoked Bourbon really lives up to its name; it’s smoky all around. It’s a little reminiscent of mezcal. Surprisingly, I was told that the barrel is only a #3 char and it was aged for 2.5 years. I can only imagine how smoky it would get if it aged for 10 years. Overall, despite the prominent char flavor, it’s fresh with slight hints of citrus and minerals and maybe a little honey in the nose. Alex used the word peaty to describe it, but I’m on the fence about that.

From the same series is the New Deal Rye which is made with rye (obviously) and malted barley. Although this whiskey was aged for 2.5 years in a #4 char, it is very light-bodied and dry. The nose presents tobacco and oak. The oak is also pretty noticeable in the aftertaste as well. New Deal Rye is probably one best sipped straight.

New Deal is also coming out with another whiskey in October, which I got to taste before it’s released– very neat! This one is Straight Rye, and only 4 barrels were made. It is lightly sweet which is balanced with flavor from the barrel. A #4 char barrel was used, but it doesn’t have much smoke to it. In fact, there is a faint cherry flavor. If I had a bottle of this rye, I’d probably make an old fashioned.

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Overall, I was extremely impressed with New Deal Distillery. I think it’s one to keep an eye on. They’ve already shown they’re capable of making unique liquor in a versatile range of types. This kind of promising craft has nowhere to go but up. Cheers!

Cacao Prieto Chocolate Factory and Widow Jane Distillery Tour

This weekend I took a tour of the Widow Jane Distillery and the Cacao Prieto Chocolate factory in Brooklyn. People kept falling into chocolate rivers and turning into blueberries.

Nah, this isn’t Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. It’s 1000x more magical because a) there’s amazing handmade chocolate and b) there’s also booze!

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Top Ten Liquors from NYC Indie Spirits Expo 2017

This past Wednesday was the Indie Spirits Expo. No, it is not some hipster ghost-worshipping party, as my mom was worried about. It was an opportunity to taste some of the best craft hard liquors in the world. There were some that haven’t even been released for sale in U.S. stores, so this is a pretty big deal. Not to mention we got half-priced tickets through pulsd.

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Here’s the sitch though –does anybody still say that? I must be stuck in the 2000’s– there was too much liquor for me to try without getting wasted, and if I tried to write about it all, you all would be reading an incoherent novel right now. So, after much deliberation, here is my top ten types of booze that I tried at the Indie Spirits Fest. In reverse order, for suspense, ya know.

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