We mentioned our recent trip to New York in our entry on last week’s lunch at Dokodemo. I wanted to bring some regional whiskeys back home, so we got a bottle of Black Dirt Single Barrel Bourbon. It’s distilled in Pine Island, New York. There are winemakers all over the state, of course: mostly upstate (south of Syracuse) — in the Finger Lakes, Lake Erie regions and Hudson River Valley (from Upper to Lower: There’s even a winery just north of Yonkers); as well as on Long Island.
AVA: American Viticultural Area
But distilleries, micro or otherwise, are sparse in New York, having been wiped out by Prohibition and the long shadow of related zombie laws. The Black Dirt distillery itself is only six years old, claims to be the state’s first micro-distillery in modern history, and was started by a couple successful local winemakers.
This 100-proof bourbon is born in Warwick, not far from the New Jersey state line, in a landscape known as the Drowned Lands. Its ingredients grow in the dark (literally black) soil under what was, twelve millennia ago, a glacial lake. How’s that for global warming. It is distilled from 80 percent corn, 12 percent malted barley, and 8 percent rye. So while it’s firmly in the bourbon category, there’s a lot going on in the pot.
One of the joys of single barrel is that you get to know a lot of details about what’s in the bottle. These details become especially interesting if you have a distiller that likes to tweak the recipe over time (even if, as with bourbon, the charred oak barrel is always a new one). My bottle of Black Dirt is from batch DO-8, which aged from at least early 2013 to February, 2016. So I guess it’s been waiting for us on the shelf for a while.
Sadly, there’s no such thing as a “dessert bourbon,” especially at 100 proof — though we’d support such a category. But this Black Dirt might come close with its “pronounced notes of caramel, toffee, and chocolate, which merge with hints of oak and baking spice on the lingering finish” (to quote our source and seller).
To try it, I pour two drinks. The first is neat, chilled with half an ice cube for a few minutes (image at top, garnished with Minneola “orange” rind — they’re actually a hybrid of tangerine and grapefruit). The second (above, left) is a Manhattan : vermouth, Dandelion and Burdock bitters, and Maraschino cherry in an iced Martini glass.
On the first sip (neat), we detect none of the flavors mentioned in the tasting notes above; on the third sip, all of it and more. We’d add that it’s, well, dirty — in a good way, like a hint of brown wheatgrass or ground barley shot (if that’s your thing). It’s earthy, well-named; and these notes make sense given the nutrient-richness of the soil in which these grains grow. I also detected a bit of butter up front — I’m beginning to suspect that what people call “toffee” in whisky, I tend to register as butter — and a pungent finish with a long, long linger. It’s the most interesting new whisky I’ve tried in quite a while.
We were browsing the brown-liquor aisles of Astor Wines and Spirits, that shrine, when we picked up this bottle. But now we’ll look for the distiller’s Warwick gin, too. Back home in Virginia, we searched for anything from Black Dirt or other New York-state makers at a local ABC, expecting to find nothing and, by that standard, not being disappointed. There was a bottle of Widow Jane Straight Bourbon in stock (Rosendale, NY), but at $75 a fifth it’s a bit up-market for a Widow, even if it is well-aged. There was also a fifth of Jefferson’s Manhattan, but that’s just geographic wordplay (it’s distilled in Kentucky, as it should be).
Does that Manhattan bottle resemble a tuxedo? White trimmings on a black body. The font used for “The Manhattan” seems like a rustic mismatch with the formal cursive of “Jefferson” and “Esquire,” so maybe it’s a tuxedo-and-T-shirt thing: Black tie at the trailer park. The tuxedo takes its name from Tuxedo Park, of course, just west of Manhattan. The cocktail almost certainly takes its name from the borough, and maybe even from an eponymous club once located there, as explained at the Wikipedia link above. I’ve never tried the bottled Manhattan, preferring to mix my own, as here.
Anyway, back to Black Dirt. Maybe there’s a bottle to be had in Maryland, though not judging by this “Where to Buy” list. But these lists often lag the retail market… Distillers have better things to do than update web pages all day. Hot barrels aren’t going to roll themselves.
We brought home half a fifth and wish it had been more. But there are a few hip-flask bottles of regional ryes swimming around our suitcase: Ironweed, Ragtime and Wormood. We’ll fish them out and review them together in an “IronRagWorm” post. Cheers.
♦ AT Wineries and its useful map. There’s a map for Virginia, too, but keep in mind that, true to its name, the website only lists wineries. So you won’t see regional distilleries like Sperryville’s (and now Williamsburg’s) Copper Fox, about which elixirs we’ll write more in the future.
♦ The Hudson River Valley Institute
♦ Master of Malt: “How to Taste Whisky”