It’s one thing to have a craft distillery.
It’s another thing entirely to produce almost 25 separate liquors in house, especially when you’ve only been in operation since 2015.
Minneapolis’ Tattersall Distilling can make that claim, and a few other notable things besides. The small-batch distiller is making a truly dazzling display of different liqueurs and distillates, and they simultaneously were able to execute on the best possible way to show them all off—with their own in-house cocktail bar. Would that alcohol law in all 50 states could allow for such a thing! In Minnesota, Tattersall is free to distill their 20-plus spirits and then you can sample all of them as God intended—in a full-strength cocktail—at the “cocktail room” right on site. Just look at the expansive menu of drinks, and you get some idea. I’ve never visited a distillery that could make so many varied cocktails exclusively with in-house ingredients, and although I haven’t had a chance to physically step into Tattersall, the mere idea of the place sounds like a dream come true.
With that thought in mind, I reached out about sampling a few of the brand’s portfolio. I chose the following:
— The brand’s new-ish flagship, “Monongahela-style” straight rye whiskey, aged for two years in newly charred oak to meet the “straight” requirement. This is 100 proof, although two years short of the age needed to be “bottled in bond.”
— The blackstrap rum, as I’ve recently been expanding my knowledge of rum as a field, but haven’t sampled many blackstrap (or non-aged) rums. This one is 90 proof, 45 percent ABV.
— The amaro, because if a distillery puts in the time and effort to make a fully fledged amaro and is trying to compete with all the classic Italian brands, that’s always worth a taste. This is 60 proof, 30 percent ABV.
So, let’s get tasting.
The term “Monongahela-style rye” has popped up in a few places lately, but there’s not a really solid or universally accepted definition, aside from the fact that it implies a very high percentage of rye in the grist. In the case of Tattersall, this means a rare 100 percent rye whiskey, something I’ve quite enjoyed in the past through the likes of the well-known WhistlePig. Tattersall’s version, however, makes the more unusual inclusion of 15 percent malted rye in the mash, which is something I’m increasingly seeing in microdistilleries right now. I wish I could say I was a fan of the concept, but I typically seem to prefer the flavor profile of unmalted rye. And indeed, the malted rye puts its stamp on this whiskey, even when included as a relatively small percentage of the grain bill.
On the nose, I get some flamed orange peel citrus notes, a hint of maple syrup, but then a somewhat overwhelming dose of pure “graininess,” the sort of which I’m coming to associate with malted rye whiskeys. There’s a Cheerio-esque toastiness to that grain character, and a breadiness, but it smells more like a fresh loaf of whole wheat bread than it does rye, as you might expect.
On the palate, however, things get more interesting. Here, the grainy notes are met by a surprising twist of red fruit/berry, which segues into a deeper fruitiness almost akin to dried prune. Residual sweetness is moderate, and the alcoholic heat is respectable—it lingers in a lasting burn but is by no means rough for a two-year, 100 proof offering. The grain character again makes me think more wheat than rye, except for the telltale pepperiness and cinnamon baking spice notes, which are rye-like.
All in all, this is one of those rye whiskeys I can recognize is interesting and fairly well composed, if not necessarily to my own personal taste. I’d be interested in trying it within the context of Tattersall’s own cocktail room.
Also, it should be noted that the MSRP of $35 for a bottle of two-year-old, 100 proof rye is extremely reasonable, by typical microdistillery standards.
This stuff fascinated me. I’m not sure entirely what I was expecting, given that I mostly drink standard aged rums, but blackstrap is clearly a significantly different beast, made with more deeply caramelized and rendered molasses that retains significantly more vegetal character. And I think I’m coming around on it.
Whereas your standard, unaged white rums are typically on the milder and more easygoing side, Tattersall’s Blackstrap Rum truly has the spirit of its molasses (and the sugarcane that preceded it) shining through. It obviously doesn’t have the color you’d expect to gain through resting in charred oak, but that makes the smoky note on its nose all the more unexpected. This is a brash, vegetal, herbal rum that would probably be of interest to those who have cultivated a taste for herbal liqueurs. And it’s not as if the expected sweetness isn’t present, it’s just that it’s tempered by everything else going on in the spirit.
Now, to my own taste, this probably isn’t the kind of rum I’ll be sampling neat—I’ll be sticking to something like Mount Gay XO for that. But as far as cocktail applications are concerned, this Blackstrap Rum could be very interesting. To test that theory, I made two daiquiris—one with Appleton Estate Signature, and one with Tattersall Blackstrap.
Whereas the Appleton one was how you’d expect a classic daiquiri with aged rum to taste—rich, caramelly, bown sugar, lime candy, baking spices, overall sweet, approachable and easy drinking—the Blackstrap Rum daiquiri was a world apart. Lighter in color, it was permeated lightly by that smoky note, but the intensity was nicely tempered by fresh lime juice. Grassy, green, herbaceous notes were present in this daiquiri, and the crowd-pleasing sweetness of the Appleton version was replaced by a more sophisticated tinge of bitterness and a lingering note of peat. I enjoyed each sip more than the previous one, and it will be something I’ll definitely experiment with again.
Alright, I’m sorry to bury the lede, but I saved the best for last—this one is where it’s at. Amaro is a wing of the liquor market that has long fascinated bartenders and mixologists, but now that bottles of Italian amaro are appearing in restaurants of all caliber around the country, average customers are starting to wake up to the versatility and sheer variety present in the wide array of spirits labeled as “amaro.”
If you’ve sampled around, then you know this to be true—quite often, two different bottles of amaro barely have anything in common. Some are syrupy sweet, while others are bracingly, shockingly bitter. They all feature different blends of herbs, roots and botanicals to achieve their flavors. In short, you never know quite what you’re going to get.
As for Tattersall’s own bottle, it’s as if they were aiming for the platonic ideal, and they managed to hit it dead on. This amaro is basically everything at once; a perfect middle ground of many competing influences and flavors. Anise, mint and bitter herbs are the biggest notes on the nose, while the palate segues nicely into juicy red fruit, orange peel, licorice, grassiness, mint and fresh ginger. It’s simultaneously less sweet and rich than some of the popular cocktail amaro such as Averna or Montenegro, but also less bitter and aggressively minty than something like Fernet Branca. It instead has aspects of both styles, but meets in the middle—moderately sweet and moderately bitter, with a lingering kiss of mint and licorice.
I look forward to using this amaro as part of various cocktails where it might fit in well—I suspect you could swap it for Campari straight up in a Negroni and get some interesting results—but more than any of the other bottles from Tattersall, this is one I’ll definitely be drinking neat. It’s an ideal aperitif, something to sip while you’re preparing dinner. This could be my new favorite neat amaro.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor guru. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.