Small Batches: That’s the Spirit!

Given the rise in popularity of craft beers and local food, it was only a matter of time before the artisan spirits industry would be taking off in the United States as well. Once associated with bootlegging during the Prohibition era, the distilling of small batch liquors actually now accounts for approximately 400 small U.S. distilleries – and they’re producing a variety of spirits, ranging from bourbon to rum, vodka, and gin. Among those small distilleries are Sag Harbor Rum, based in the South Fork of eastern Long Island, NY – as well as a number of Illinois-based whiskey producers, including Koval, which is located in Chicago, where it produces a single-barrel, gluten-free organic bourbon whiskey. Evanston-based Few Spirits, as well as the Lake Bluff areas’ North Shore Distillery, are also on the list.

While it is true that keeping these more expensive liquors in stock at your establishment might require thoughtful marketing (aimed at the type of patron willing to spend the extra money for a unique experience), the truth is that if the popularity of microbreweries is any indication, that market is definitely out there – and such patrons are probably on the lookout, right around now, to try something even newer.

George Washington Made Us Do It

The production of small batch liquors actually goes back to far before Prohibition. Some may know that George Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation ran a corn and rye milling business, but most probably don’t realize that the plantation was also equipped with a still, which was used to make whiskey from those very same crops – as much as 11,000 gallons per year of it, in fact. (Today, by way of comparison, the number of cases that Koval and Few Spirits sell per year is 20,000 and 6,000, respectively).

It won’t be until mid-May, but Long Island’s Sag Harbor Rum expects to be releasing 6,000 750-ml bottles (for $37 apiece), which will comprise its first batch ever (currently soaking up the flavor of vanilla, ginger, pineapple, ginger, walnut and coffee in old bourbon barrels – which will also add to the taste). Bartenders and business partners Jason Cyril Laan and Michael McQuade have been enlisting the help of Long Island Spirits (located in Baiting Hollow, NY), as well as long-time distiller Rich Stabile in the process of making their company a reality – a process which has involved first importing the purest form of rum possible (distilled five times) from Trinidad. Laan also brings to the table (or, should we say, to the bar?) his own experience of having produced a private label vodka during the six years when he lived in Amsterdam.

Sorry – Get Your Own

Laan and McQuade boast that their rum – which is relatively flavorless until taking on the complex taste of the fruits and spices, as well as the barrels in which it ages – will be delightful to drink by itself as well as mixed into a variety of cocktails.

Sound great? Well, unfortunately, if you’re anxious to bring Sag Harbor Rum to your own bar, you may have to wait a while (unless you happen to be located in the South Fork of Long Island, NY); so far, the pair has been doing its sales the old fashioned way (primarily by going door to door) and wants to keep the operation running on a very small, local scale for the first year.

Who knows, though? Perhaps, among those 400-odd distilleries in the United States, there’s a small-batch spirit producer close to your location. It would certainly be worth finding out. (Or, better still, if these two bartenders were able to create their own brand of local spirit, what’s to stop you from doing the same?)

Josh Saunders