Bringing Absolut to a house party or Jack to a camping weekend is fine … if you’re boring. Impress a discerning host with these nine fine small-batch liquors recommended by Patrick Dacy, the educated owner of Duke’s Liquor Box in Brooklyn.
In 2011, with their “Revision of Distilled Spirits Plant Regulations,” the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau made a decision that hugely impacted the lives of distillers and drinkers: they modernized and clarified the requirements for operating distilleries, making application and compliance easier and more efficient. The next year, in October 2012, Governor Andrew Cuomo pledged $1 million for advertising for New York State distilleries.
In 2013, Patrick Dacy opened Duke’s Liquor Box to showcase the many fine small batch liquors that sprang up in response. With curious bottles full of unique liquors lining his small shop, he has built a loyal following of local and far-flung fans who call asking him to ship or put behind the bar their favorite apple pie whiskey made in the Hudson Valley or the mezcal that actually shows its Oaxacan terroir.
The recently-opened Duke’s Annex, next door to the Liquor Box, will soon begin to feature classes and talks on topics such as the history of simple cocktails, including the negroni, the old fashioned, and the gin and tonic.
Check out Dacy’s recommendations, in his own words, for nine small batch bottles to take to parties where the host and friends would appreciate fine and unique liquors.
Cocchi Americano & Cocchi Americano Rosa
If I was going to a dinner party that I knew it was full of lightweights, I would drink these bottles, which are really low proof at just 16% ABV.
Cocchi is an Italian producer that does mainly aperitif wines. These are both aperitif wines, and are slightly bitter. They’re somewhat bitter, somewhat sweet, so if you add sparkling water, seltzer, and a squeeze of lime, they’re delicious. Otherwise, you would use this as a component in a gin cocktail. Do equal parts gin, Cocchi, grapefruit juice, grapefruit peel. The wines versatile, they’re easy, they’re light, they’re good to work with.
If you want something to give you street cred, Rum Fire is absolutely out of control. It’s really high proof, and something that nobody would ever walk into a dinner party with, and if you do, you’re either a hero or people hate you. Despite the awful label, it’s really fantastic. Trelawny is an area in Jamaica, and Hampden Estate is the distillery that makes this rum. Rum Fire is their silver rum. People either love it or hate it.
This is extremely fruity and on the nose, it smells like you’re going to drink a pineapple or un-ripened banana, but it’s so high proof it knocks you on your ass. It mixes really well in pina coladas, but it’s also the type of thing you have people taking shots of it. It’s really intense, a really unique product.
Three Hunters Vodka
Charlotte, North Carolina
We wanted to pick a vodka because vodka is really easy to bring to a party and it works with pretty much everything. But instead of going with a cheap, really boring vodka that you want to mix with, we wanted something that you could just pour over an ice cube and enjoy on its own.
This is made by three guys who were paleo, and they wanted to make it from only foraged things, so they distilled grapes separately, and blueberries separately. Spirits were produced from both, and then they were blended together. If you pour that over ice, it’s got this really nice soft round fruitiness to it, but it’s not a sweetened vodka.
It’s got mouthfeel to it, it’s round, and coats your mouth in a good way. It has character, but it’s not flavored whatsoever. It’s an elegant neutral spirit that’s easy to mix with, or can stand alone.
Instead of doing tequila, we’re doing mezcal. This is a somewhat unique mezcal. This particular brand is something we’ve been behind a long time; we’re very conscious with what they’re doing with the earth, what they’re pulling out of the earth, how they’re producing it.
The majority of mezcals are produced in the state of Oaxaca within Mexico, and the majority of them are produced using one variety of agave called espadin. The reason it’s labeled elote is that they added roasted corn into the distillation, which adds a sweetness and a roundness that this type of spirit wouldn’t normally have. There’s also a toasted character along with the smoky character. It’s also 50% alcohol. They’re not adding any water.
The production if it is actually really beautiful. They use all parts of it, including the leaves, which are very fibrous. The label is even printed using agave pulp.
The way you drink this is by pouring it over ice, with some citrus. You cut up an orange into quarters. Sprinkle some chili powder with salt (they use worm salt, a dried grub they grind up with chile) on a plate, surround it with chunks of orange, get some short round glasses, take a sip, dip your orange in the chile salt, eat it. It’s awesome and supereasy. Show up to a party with this, and pour everyone one or two rounds. You’re serving two ounces and that’s it. Nobody’s getting wasted, it’s something that’s really interesting and delicious.
Iron Smoke Distillery
Fairport, New York
Let’s say you’re going to a party and it’s going to be a shitty barbecue cookout. You know people there drink shots of fireball and Pabst Blue Ribbon and crappy stuff like that. Here is your really, really easy, kinda trashy thing to bring, but it’s still all-natural, made in upstate New York.
It’s unaged corn whiskey that’s white. So they’re taking corn whiskey and they’re adding natural apple cider, cinnamon, vanilla, brown sugar. No artificial colorings or additives. The guy who makes it is awesome – it’s kind of a one-man operation. All we do here is refrigerate it. It’s so smooth, it’s crazy easy to drink.
It’s something he did to pay the bills while his other whiskey was aging. You stick it in the freezer when you show up at the party and you just do shots of it.
Doc’s All Natural Spirits
Brooklyn, New York
Doc’s Absinthe is another cool product to bring to a party. He makes it here in Brooklyn. You get different reactions with absinthe because of its bad rap – that it’ll make you go crazy, that it’ll make you hallucinate, that it was outlawed. It is high proof, but if you drink enough of any high proof spirit, it’s gonna make you a different person no matter what.
The easiest and most palatable way to drink this stuff is to bring a bottle (it’s still 70% alcohol, so bring a small bottle) and a prosecco or Champagne. Do Champagne and absinthe, fresh lemon, and it’s a Death in the Afternoon, which was Hemingway’s favorite cocktail. Or pour it over ice with some lemon. Sugar mellows it out and makes it more palatable.
What’s nice about this is that it isn’t what everybody thinks about absinthe. There’s not that component of licorice. It’s more herbal, vegetal. You pour it in Champagne, add some lemon, it’s delicious.
Brooklyn, New York
This is a really friendly whiskey; You can call it “breakfast whiskey.” These guys are in Sunset Park, and what they’re doing is super legit, start to finish – buying whole raw grains, fermenting, distilling, mashing. This is their rye, which they blend with corn.
So it’s 70% rye, 30% corn – kind of a reverse bourbon. Bourbons are usually 60 to 70% corn, with a little rye. Bourbons tend to be either overly sweet or really, really sharp, depending on the corn. Ryes tend to be really spicy, but this is nice and sweet – like drinking banana bread with a ton of cinnamon.
Make an old fashioned with this, it’s so delicious. Pour it over an ice cube, it’s great. It’s a good shot. Any whiskey cocktail you can think of, this works in it, because it’s really palatable and easy. Add soda water to it, if you want to.
It’s a full-on crowd-pleaser whiskey. Even people who don’t like whiskey are surprised at how much they enjoy it. It really wins over people. We have people who come through who don’t drink whiskey who have fallen in love with it. Our customers who drink it who aren’t whiskey drinkers won’t drink anything else. Occasionally, the supply is limited and it runs out and people who ask for the 77 just say, “You know what? Forget it, I’ll come back when you have it, so call me when it comes in.” They won’t drink anything else.
Willet Family Estate Two Year Rye
Say you know these guys at the party are whiskey drinkers, or these ladies have a whiskey club that they’re into and they want stuff that’s not super obscure, that doesn’t cost 400 or 1000 bucks to get a bottle, but stuff they can really put their teeth into.
This is spicy, rich, robust and high-proof. It’s 100% rye whiskey, a little bit of barley probably. A lot of these other liquors we talked about are brand new. In this case, these guys have been producing whiskey in Kentucky since before Prohibition.
This expression is aged only two years, which is young, but it’s really good, using their old recipe, all Kentucky grain product. Really, really fantastic, but really intense. I even prefer it with an ice cube. I use a fat cube and I let it relax a little bit. If you pour this neat into a glass or a whiskey snifter, it’s really tight because of the alcohol content. Once you add water or ice, it opens up and releases those oils. In whiskey specifically, even in mezcal, there are residual oils from the grain or plant used to make it.
If you add an ice cube to this, it turns a little cloudy and you see this swirling action of oil being released, which opens up this bouquet of stone fruits, apricot, cherry, and then this really sharp, almost cacao nib-like scent – a really bitter cacao nib, not chocolate, but cacao. It’s really intense, with a really long finish. As you’re drinking it, even if you’ve never had anything like that, you know something really special is happening in your mouth
If you’re a whiskey drinker, the first thing you’re going to think is, “How did they do this in two years aging?”
None of these bottles are over the $60 or $70 mark. At the end of the day about 40% of the price of a bottle of booze is sales tax. It’s pretty gross and it shouldn’t be that way, but it is. If you can get a product to market fast with low alcohol content, it’s going to be cheap. If you’re bottling it slow with a high alcohol content, then a 20-year whiskey is going to be expensive. Releasing it faster is the holy grail of that whole whiskey world. It’s not possible in three months.
McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whiskey
Clear Creek Distillery
Say the weather’s colder, you’ve got scotch drinkers, and you want something smoky. This would be a really interesting whiskey to drink. It’s made in Oregon with Scottish barley that’s been peated. It’s really different from either of the other two whiskeys on this list because it’s rich and smoky. Scotch is single malt, but all single malts are not scotch.
I would pour it neat, but there are certain things you do with this. If you knew you were going to have this really huge steak dinner, the fattest ribeye with really rich sides, then you’re drinking this just neat. If you want to stretch this out, then you make scotch cocktails. Do two parts smoky whiskey, one part amaro, a couple dashes of orange—make it like a Manhattan. Treat it like a bourbon or rye, but add a sweet liqueur with some citrus components to it.