There are few better ways to warm oneself on a cold December day than a whiskey tasting at a distillery. Bonus if there’s a fireplace, and if the still is firing and the warm smell of distillate fills the room.
This was pretty much the scene at Van Brunt Stillhouse in Red Hook when I visited for a tasting, and to talk all things whiskey with founder/head distiller Daric Schlesselman. After a tour of the distillery, where whiskey and rum of all kinds sit in wooden casks that surround the giant copper still like an altar to the distillation gods, we got to the tasting.
Originally, I came to know Van Brunt Stillhouse sort of through the side door, their Due North Rum. It’s a gold rum that's a sleeper rum in mind, or at least one that is not as well known as it should be, but really very good.
Whiskey though is what Van Brunt Stillhouse is most known for these days, and for good reason. They currently have four different varieties, a rye, a bourbon, a malt and what they call the American Whiskey. Daric, who got his start distilling in his kitchen with a still he bought on the internet on a whim, is obviously something of a mad professor with the still. He frequently plays with different combinations and techniques to develop new offerings. When I was there we tried a new half peat bourbon that was fantastic. If there ever was a whiskey that will open the door to the more peaty world of single malts and scotch, that would be the one.
But of course not all of Daric’s experiments make it to bottle. He told me about other projects that didn’t quite work, or at least those he would let age for a while longer to see how they’d develop. I really appreciate this approach of trial and error and experimentation. At one point he showed me a smoker he was using that reeked of last nights bonfire to smoke the grains used for a new whiskey. Then there were the dozens of small tincture bottles containing various spirit recipes—an archive of experimentation—all in the name of constant research and refinement.
Back in the distillery’s tasting room, we went through the full Stillhouse offering, and a few other spirits that they’re doing in limited runs. Though the American Whiskey is what Van Brunt is likely most known for, I particularly liked the bourbon and I gained a particular appreciation for Van Brunt’s Single Malt too. After going on something of a rant about single malts and the overwhelming smokey peat flavor I’ve found in many (something I share with a lot of fellow bourbon lovers), Daric insisted I try theirs. Twist my arm! It was very good, smooth and not overwhelming at all and it’s forced me to rethink what a single malt can be.
I’ve said it before, but we really are in a golden age of spirits and drinking culture. Never before have so many spirits, beers and wines been so accessible. And never before have so many craftsmen committed themselves to developing new and unique offerings. Van Brunt is very much in this vain, solidly rooted in whiskey’s past, but not at all afraid to push ahead either.