GSN Review: Little City Vermouth

Little City Vermouth is a new product in a category which is just begging for more variety. After all, three of the most iconic cocktails in the world call for it (Martini, Manhattan & Negroni). I asked Will Clark, the owner of New York State’s Little City how he became interested in crafting vermouth.
“First I got into cocktails. I began collecting bottles and inventing drinks. In an effort to create cocktails with more unique character I began making my own ingredients—syrups, shrubs, infusions. I had been exploring vermouth, sipping it on its own and relying on it heavily in many of my drinks. From a mixologist perspective, I was intrigued by vermouth. In a way, it’s like a pre-made cocktail, a combination of herbs, liquor and sugar. And it’s a diverse category with much room for experimentation and personal expression. I began making my own vermouth in my Harlem apartment. I played with different methods of extraction, different blending processes. I researched the history of vermouth—which is as old as wine itself—and tried to track down every botanical that had ever been used in vermouth. The possible flavor combinations are endless. Eventually, I was making vermouth that I preferred to anything I could buy in the store. I would drink it on it’s own and put it in almost every cocktail. I shared it with a few bartender and restaurant owner friends of mine and got positive responses. They said that if I could sell it to them legally, they would buy it. That “legally” part is more easily said than done.”
Will continued, “I searched throughout New York State to find a producer that would work with me to make this vermouth just how I wanted it made. Because vermouth is a blend of wine and spirit, and because vermouth is considered wine by the federal government and spirit by the New York state government, licensing is a bit tricky. Of the distilleries and wineries that I spoke with, Finger Lakes Distilling was the most willing to take on the challenges of production and compliance on my terms. They are experts at what they do, and they were excited to lend their vast knowledge to my project without forcing me to change my recipe. They liked what I already had, and they wanted to help me bring it to market. Now it’s here.”
I asked Will what kind of wine is used in his sweet & dry vermouths. “Both Little City Vermouths are built on a base of Cayuga White wine. Cayuga White is a cross of Schuyler and Seyval Blanc grapes that was developed at Cornell University in an effort to create a grape that would grow well in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. And it does grow well there. And that’s where we get it. Specifically, it comes from Glenora Wine Cellars, just across Seneca Lake from Finger Lakes Distilling.”
GSN’s Thoughts
Little City Dry (17.5% abv) With 38 botanicals, this vermouth is very citrus forward on the entry, with a lime character. A bit tart and zippy. The wine character comes through after this, followed by a softer and mellow herb flavor. There is a slight bitterness to the whole affair, which is how it should be. Overall, quite well-balanced and fruity. GSN Rating: B+
Little City Sweet (16.5% abv) Using 53 botanicals, the sweet has a smokey, almost tea like flavor at first, lightened with a burnt sugar character. The herbs are complex with a floral, spicy and semi-bitter edge. The wine serves more as a delivery system here than showing up with any real presence, but it works well as a canvas to the blend of botanicals. Very nice and well-rounded. GSN Rating: A- 

For more information go to: Little City Vermouth

GSN Review: McKenzie Single Barrel Bourbon – Lucky Hare Collaboration

Finger Lakes Distilling, located in beautiful Central New York, recently announced a new whiskey that was made in collaboration with their friends from Lucky Hare Brewing. A few months ago, FLD lent them two barrels that held McKenzie Pure Pot Still Whiskey. They filled them with Russian Imperial Stout and let them rest for a bit. When it was finished, they had a new whiskey barrel-aged stout, cleverly named I Am The Liquor, and FLD had two new barrels to play with. They selected a special high-rye bourbon that would pair well with the stout and transferred it to the beer barrels. After monitoring the barrels for a few weeks, they bottled it for the latest McKenzie Single Barrel release. Supplies are very limited and only available at the distillery located in Burdett, NY.

McKenzie Single Barrel Bourbon (90 proof)
Visual: Dark copper.
Nose: Dark and mysterious depths of burnt sugar, slightly charred malt, and maple hardwood balanced with a softened rye spice nose. This is a bourbon to contemplate.
Taste: At first sip, the stout flavor comes through with an almost chewy, brown beard-like character, this is followed up with a slightly bitter molasses character, that intermingles with the spice kick of the rye. Holding everything together is a beautifully rounded bourbon base that smooths everything out.
Finish: Long with a curious sarsaparilla finish.
Overall: An unusual experiment that somehow is greater than the sum of its parts. The stout complements the bourbon, and visa versa. Seek this out if you can.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Finger Lakes Distilling

GSN Review: Finger Lakes Distilling

Finger Lakes Distilling is unique in a region known more for its production of Rieslings and Icewines.  FLD only focuses on creating distilled spirits using old time methods, including whiskey, grappa, vodka, gin, fruit brandies and fruit-based liqueurs.  They were kind enough to send me a sampling of some of their products and I picked up another at a local store.  Here are some reviews to whet your appetite (or should that be slake your thirst?).

Pear Brandy (90 proof): The initial nosing has that fruit brandy “funk” for lack of a better word.  Slightly musky and dry with an medium alcohol base.  The taste is also quite dry, but fruity.  The alcohol heat is noticable, not surprising considering that it is 90 proof.  The distillate is quite nice and smooth.   I’m impressed that the taste of fresh pear comes through loud and clear.  This spirit is quite well done and ranks in my top five pear brandies.   I’m excited to try this in a sidecar as an alternative to cognac.   I might even try aging this in a charred oak barrel to get some additional vanilla notes.  GSN Rating: A

Peach Brandy (90 proof): The peach scent is fresh and mixes well with the brandy “funk”.  Again this is very dry and subtle.  The heat is warming and has a tickling sensation in the mouth.  The fruit flavor is less obvious here than in the pear brandy, but you do get a ghost-like peach taste that lingers in the mouth.   This is a nice sipper and would serve well alongside a plate of peach cobbler, or on it’s own as an after dinner digestif.  The recipe is based on George Washington’s Mount Vernon version and is one of the few authentic peach brandies available on the market today.  Do yourself a favor and pick up a bottle not only for the historical significance, but also the pleasure of experiencing a real fruit brandy that has nothing in common with what passes for fruit brandies on the bottom shelf at your local liquor store.  GSN Rating: A-

McKenzie Rye Whiskey (91 proof): A honey brown color in the bottle.  The nose is quite woody, less vanilla and more oak.  There’s a woodland floor scent that is in the forefront.  The taste again is quite woody and almost has a Morel mushroom-like quality, that slowly opens up into the sweetness of maple sugar and cinnamon toast.  The fact that it is un-chill filtered works well here to push the spicy character of the rye forward.  Overall, a good whiskey, but one that seems to be too young to stand out from the pack.  I think it could benefit from longer aging or perhaps blending it with some different barrelings.   My particular bottle is labeled Batch #3 (2010).  Try this in a Sazerac or Old Fashioned and see what you think.   GSN Rating: C+

Seneca Drums Gin (86 proof): This is an interesting gin made with 75% grape spirit and 25% grain spirit.  The nose is floral and herb-like with more of an Evergreen scent than juniper.  The flavor is smooth and definitely in the London Dry camp.  The flavor notes include peppercorns, juniper, clove, lavender and sandalwood.  The finish is long and lingering with a warming lanolin waxiness.  There is a lot going on in the glass, but no one flavor overwhelms the whole.  It is extremely well balanced and yet very much an upfront gin.  Out of several of the new American artisinal gins I’ve had, Seneca Drums ranks right at the top.  I would recommend this unhesitatingly in a martini, G&T or any gin based cocktail.  A pleasant surprise all around, and still very different from any other gin on the market.  GSN Rating: A+

I hope to get to the distillery soon and will publish a review of more of their products as well as info on their methods.  In the meantime, for more info go to their website at:  fingerlakesdistilling.com