A still! Right in our own backyard, and a legal one to boot. Brian McKenzie, president of Finger Lakes Distilling in lil ol' Burdett, NY invited Leah and I for a private tour of his new distillery which will hopefully be open to the public this spring.
We were greeted by a massive, shiny copper still, a wagging dog, liquor fumes and a guy with a molasses-like, Alabama drawl who identified himself as Thomas McKenzie, no relation to Brian, which we had guessed by his accent. The distillery had 60 foot hight ceilings, big and little barrels of aging whiskey and brandy, looming storage containers and a long trough filled with mash. Seeing how New York is a bit short on distilleries, this was my first time seeing mash. Cool. This is where my booze comes from.
These guys are going to be our new best friends. Seriously. They let us taste some of their liquid treasure and boy howdy was it good. We got to sample their gin, rye whiskey, new catawba brandy and aged brandy. That's right. I said catawba, as in Vitus labrusca, the crappy upstate New York grape used to make sweet party-girl wines like Hazlitt Winery's Red Cat, and now used to make phenomenal liquor. I think we tried something else, too, but the memories are all swirling together now.
Was it good hooch? Cousin, it rocked our world. And we're pretty fussy bitches. The gin was delicately floral and smooth as silk. So smooth, in fact, that it could be a sipper, no ice necessary. How many gins can claim that quality? The rye whiskey went kaboom on our palates. Heavy with flavor and almost peaty, Leah drank more than her fair share of it (the whiskey was heavy and peaty, not Leah). The young catawba brandy was as clear as water and had a sweet edge reminiscent of cachaca. When I tasted the caramel-colored two-year-old brandy, I ran off with the half-full tasting glass and hid behind a big barrel so I would not have to share. I'm not making that up. It was pure heaven, like an expensive special-occasion-only cognac. Also in the works but not available for tasting that day were vodka, wild berry vodka and various brandies including apple maple and walnut honey.
Brian and Thomas are going to do great on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, which can now also be referred to as the Corn Trail. They are true locavores, growing their own grapes and purchasing all of their grains in New York State; an ancient farmer and his wife dropped by while we were there to show Thomas some of their grain. Mother nature permitting, they plan to grow their own herbs, too. Finger Lakes Distilling is slated to open in late spring, and we definitely will carry their liquor at the Lounge and make some original Finger Lakes cocktails with it, provided we don't drink it all ourselves.