Last month, boutique distilleries around the globe descended upon Manhattan’s Touch nightclub for the NYC Indy Spirits Expo, a celebration of boutique spirits brands. This was a great opportunity for hundres of cocktail enthusients, store and bar owners to meet distillers, brand owners, importers and, of course, taste some of the finest spirits the world around.
Now, I’m a big cocktail fan but it seems that stronger beverages get little love here on IDrunkThat. I often look at all of these spirits brands as big, far off corporations that offer little incentive for me to set fingers to keyboard. But the Indy Spirits Expo completely negated that preconception and provided a crash course in the spirits revolution. What interested me most about these distilleries was how similar their story was to that of the craft beer brewer. These were bootstrapping individual risking house and home to break new ground in the world of spirits and, since personal distilling is highly illegal, doing it without the amateur experience of homebrewing. From milk-based vodka from Vermont to carbon-negative rums from California, these individuals were shedding the stalwart practices of traditional distilling left and right.
As with all liquor-based events, I immediately gravitated towards brown spirits. The first clear standout for me was New York’s own Tuthilltown Spirits’ Hudson Whisky Four Grain. Blended from corn, rye, wheat and malted barley, this bourbon uses a unique process of retaining its slurry through the entire first distillation for a unique, grassy, earthen flavor. Another clear winner was the much-anticipated Whisky Pig rye from Shoreham, Vermont. Whisky Pig is a new venture from David Pickerell who served as master distiller at Maker’s Mark for more than a decade. This was a huge rye with lots of vanilla, orange peel and spice notes but without the usually grainy flavors of rye. This is an easy rye to love and one that non-rye drinkers can feel comfortable with
But it wasn’t all whiskys at the Indy Spirits Expo. Everywhere you turned someone was breaking ground. Philadelphia’s Blue Coat Gin, for example, was distilled using organic juniper berries, American citrus peels and assorted other botanicals. The result was an herbaceous, woodsy character that was surprisingly soft on the palate and will quickly become a new favorite for the gin and tonic drinker. Also notable was the Vermont Spirits Gold. Distilled from first running of maple sap, this unique vodka had wonderful caramel undertones which will marry perfectly with white russians and other rich cocktails (as will there Vermont Spirits White, a lactose based vodka.)
As with all events, a few items were a miss, a few items were just okay and the tasting palate was in poor shape by the end of the evening. But overall, the Indy Spirits Expo presented a stellar line-up of next-level spirits. I’d recommend an event like this to any cocktail lover looking to get out of their comfort zone and learn a little more about the source of their spirits.