Though the trendy nickname for whiskey (“brown”) is less than appealing, it turns out that whiskey is taking Westchester drinkers by storm. At the time of writing, Comb/StilltheOne Distillery in Port Chester just began distilling Captain Lawrence Brewing Company’s Freshchester Pale Ale. The collaboration whiskey will be aged for one year in charred new oak barrels and will be available in liquor stores at the end of 2013. Meanwhile, Bar’lees Wine and Whiskey Bar, a restaurant/wine bar newly opened in Mamaroneck, debuted with scores of Scotch whiskeys. The down-county spot joins Pour in Mount Kisco, which offers an almost unheard of selection of rare American spirits, including a full lineup of Pappy Van Winkle, the nearly impossible-to-find small-batch whiskeys favored by Anthony Bourdain and David Chang. Meanwhile, at Peekskill’s Gleason’s, whiskey is crowding the once unchallenged primacy of vodka and gin; 40 percent of Gleason’s cocktails are based on the brown spirit.
Tim Reinke, co-owner of Gleason’s and Birdsall House, agrees that Westchesterites are drinking more whiskey. “A lot of it has to do with the change in the distillery laws in 2004. There’s been a huge rise in the opening of new, smaller distilleries. People are coming in looking for these smaller whiskeys; in fact, we’re moving a lot of Stranahan’s out of Denver, Colorado.” Rye, he says, “is becoming increasingly popular, too. At Gleason’s, we base a few cocktails on rye, but, also, people come in and drink it straight. We’re selling a lot of Redemption and Michter’s. Soon, we’re actually going to offer our own. Right now, we’re aging some Buffalo Trace White Dog Rye in a five-liter Tuthilltown barrel. It was bottled at a hundred twenty-five proof, but we mixed that down to ninety or so with distilled water, and now we’re aging it. We figure that it’ll take about five or six months—it’s a shorter aging period because, with a small cask, the ratio of wood to whiskey is different.”
Anthony Colasacco of Pour concurs with the growing popularity of whiskey. “A lot more people are going for the brown spirit over white. At Pour, we only carry one vodka and two gins now. Most everything else is whiskey.” His roster of boutique American whiskeys (along with the Pappy Van Winkle’s) includes the fabled A.H. Hirsch Reserve 16 Years Old, reputed to be “the best bourbon you’ll never taste” because of its rarity. It also includes some of the priciest spirits around—yet Colasacco has not seen his customers flinch. “There’s been no price complaint at all. I think that the people who know about this stuff know what it costs. And I’m pretty reasonably priced compared to other places. I’ve seen the Hirsch at a hundred dollars per ounce.” At Pour, one ounce of the Hirsch 16 costs $75.
Besides price, there are other challenges that accompany the craze for small-batch-distilled whiskey. As implied by the scarcity of Pappy Van Winkle and Hirsch, supply from small distilleries can prove spotty. Says Colasacco, “I have a hard time keeping them all in. Look at Delaware Phoenix. She [Delaware Phoenix Proprietor Cheryl Lins] makes one barrel, and, when it’s done, it’s just done. Some of this stuff I can only get bottle by bottle. But, let’s face it: Scarcity is part of the game. People always want what they can’t get.”