Duckworth Distillery: Eccentricity in a Bottle, and Out

In visiting with Lee Fuqua, owner and distiller at Duckworth Distillery, you get the feeling he's waiting all day for someone to stop by and chat. The man is a character and a half, and like a riptide, it's probably best to simply go along with his tangents and see where you end up.

On this particular day, we cover a lot of ground. Part mad scientist, part local historian, Lee leads me through his beef with a reporter at the Dallas Observer. This woman crossed the wrong citizen, leaving out mention of Duckworth in an article she wrote on the city's craft distillery scene. He has no sooner printed up and handed over the letter to the editor he intends to send (love the bullet points!), before he's onto a new topic. It could be how three taxidermied heads of deer found their fate on his wall or how he figured out exactly how much shaved truffles to put into his infused vodka. The beauty of it is Lee is equally animated about it all.

The operation is fairly simple. Lee ferments granulated Texas sugarcane and runs it twice through a small-volume column still. For the vodka, it gets proofed down to 82. I tried it and it tasted unremarkable, just clean. Apparently, the judges at the Beverage Testing Institute competition found a lot more to it, because the awarded it Gold medals in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Medals usually go around the neck of a bottle, but Lee confides that he has no problem wearing them around his own neck.  You do you, boo boo.

The vodkas get interesting for me with the infused and barrel aged flavors (both 82 proof, and from the same sugar cane mash). There is a truffle vodka, that tastes as smooth, rich and decadent as it sounds. As with any truffle flavor, you will simultaneously want more, while dreading that over-sated feeling. This one has also won several Gold medals and "Best Vodka in the World" at 2016's Beverage Testing Institute competition. Another claim to fame: it is the only truffle flavored vodka currently produced in the whole wide world. As tasty as it is, and with the popularity of truffle in higher-end dining, I don't see how that can be.

Lee takes me back to the large jars filled with vodka, where the truffles sit at the bottom for several days. At first, I don't know what I'm looking at. It looks like mulch, since they've been shaved down to a pulp. If that were true, it would be the most expensive mulch in the world.

Lee opens the cork on the jug and wafts some my way. If I closed my eyes, I would expect to open them and find myself in one of the trendy Californian Italian kitchens I'm used to back in LA. This observation leads Lee to another tangent, this time about how the Italians he knows were upset he wasn't using Italian truffle (the best in the world, of course). Like the argument itself, on the merits of French vs Italian, the topic of truffles is best left here.

There is a vodka aged in french oak barrels, not charred, for three and a half weeks. I'm surprised by the obvious note of vanilla, since I, like most people, would assume a wood or oaky taste. But it's just not there. Instead, you get a delicious vodka that is  smooth to drink and a perfect way to add a hint of vanilla to a drink without using an overpowering liqueur.

I stick around to try a Grapefruit/Mango flavored vodka that has not been released yet, and to chitchat more with Lee, of course. The drink is light, crisp and more citrus forward than any other note. And the conversation is lighthearted: Lee making fun of his sister, Diane, before she pops by like clockwork at 6 o'clock, for "unlimited" cocktails. When I get to meet her, she strikes me as perfectly pleasant and hardly the mooch. I am also careful to steer clear of family drama, whether it's my own family or not. I bid adieu and leave them snickering over inside jokes.

Lee is the wildcard here. For his vodkas, it has led to some inspired and tasty creations. But as a tour guide for an hour, it's anyone's guess what you'll get.


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