Mad Scientists at Still the One Distillery
Even if you plan on having the teensiest of samples at Still the One Distillery in Port Chester, NY- hang on, you are in for a long day.
Before I meet either of the distilling geniuses here, I am greeted by the sweetest black lab, Branzino. That's right, as in sea bass. Most distillery animals are named Malt, Barley, Cooper, but not here. You know something is different at Still the One, as you're hands are licked clean by the most non-fishy dog ever.
Then there's distillers Ryan and Tyler. These guys might as well be brothers. Plaid shirts? Check. Lumberjack beards? Check. Finish each other's sentences? Nearly there. They met while working at another distillery. Tyler had been distilling for several years by that point. Ryan was just learning the craft, coming from a home-brewing background. The two ended up living together for a while. Ryan describes it as immersive an experience as you could possibly get: twelve-hour-days at the distillery, followed by tutorials with Tyler, with plenty of sampling along the way, into early morning.
About six months ago, Tyler joined Still the One, and Ryan had to come along as part of the package deal.
Of all the things to know about Ryan and Tyler, and there's plenty, most important is that the distillery is their laboratory, and they are given free reign to experiment at will. Branzino aside, they are the only ones there on the day I visit.
First, let's get to the spirits bottled for the general drinking public.
There's a 100% corn vodka. The grain arriving to the distillery already milled. It's slightly sweet on the nose. The palate takes me through sweet corn, chocolate and candy. When else, besides sipping vodka, is it acceptable to taste chocolate and corn at the same time?
More impressive, the brains at Still the One have come up with a vodka made entirely from honey. More accurately, they get mead from a local producer, which is basically fermented honey or honey beer. It is then distilled twice through the pot still to "preserve flavor," at Tyler reminds me. The nose on it is sweet, to be sure, but not smelling particularly of honey. I'd say it's closer to a white grape, maybe with some flower blossoms in there. The palate is vanilla with a touch of sweet on the finish.
There's another bottle of distilled honey: this time aged between two to three years in used bourbon barrels (#4 char). It's 84 proof, and is more spicy than sweet. I only get a touch of honey on the finish. The nose is of wood, with a hint of earth and sweet.
And of course, you can't have a honey vodka without a honey gin. Tyler would want me to be more accurate: it is a mix of honey vodka and cane neutral spirit made elsewhere. The mixture is then distilled through a basket containing juniper, coriander, citrus zest, ginger and a couple other botanicals I'm not allowed to know. The gin is bottled at 90 proof. The nose is mostly of citrus lavender and the requisite pine, while the palate is predominantly of juniper.
Still the One's 100% wheat whiskey (wheat grown in Westchester) is 90 proof and aged for three years in new oak barrels, with #4 char. It has a sweet and grassy nose. The palate is smooth, with a grainy spice.
Their single malt is on the unusual side for containing hops. That's because it results from a collaboration between the distillery and nearby Captain Lawerence brewery. The latter "donated"thousands of gallons of their Freschester Pale Ale. Still the One ran it through their pot still twice, careful to maintain the ale's hoppy and floral flavor. It is 90 proof and aged for two years in new barrels. The result smells of caramel, and only a faint trace of hops. The palate is a great mix of chocolate and vanilla, with a hint of wood grain.
Tyler makes me laugh as he pours my next sample. He calls it a "beginner's rye." I imagine a little kid reaching up to the counter, finding the snifter and taking a tenuous sip. Tyler says that because it most prominently sweet, as opposed to spicy. The spirit is made from 100% New York rye, so I don't know where the sweetness comes from. It is 90 proof and aged two years in #4 char new oak. Sure enough, I get sweetness in the nose, along with sour apple. The palate is also medium sweet and smooth, with a cherry finish.
Next is their most popular spirit: bourbon. The mash bill is 75% corn, 20% wheat and 5% malted barley, all from New York State. The sample I try is 90 proof and aged seventeen months. It has a nose of sweet corn and grape. The palate is mostly sweet corn, with a fruit finish.
I called Tyler and Ryan "mad scientists" for good reason. They're busy working on a couple more distillations of different Captain Lawrence beer. There is one based on an imperial stout, so it's full of darkly roasted barley, oats and hops. It's going to be 90 proof, once it's done aging one year in new oak barrels.
I try a distilled Liquid Gold, which is Captain Lawrence's Belgian pale ale. It starts off as fermented wheat, barley and coriander. This one is also 90 proof. It smells delicious, of sweet wheat. The palate is coriander and hops, with a bit of citrus on the finish. I can see why people garnish Belgian brews with an orange slice. A big bite into an orange would be wonderful right now. Too bad all I got are more tastes of alcohol.
I finish with another of their experiments: the honey gin aged in used bourbon barrels. This sample is straight from the barrel, so 110 proof. It will be proofed down to 94 when it's time to bottle. This gin also differs from the other in that it has rose petals and tea leaves steeped in the distillate. I have such a great aftertaste in my mouth from the beer-based spirits, I know it's a mistake to end on gin of any sort. Sure enough, I get a whiff of rose and juniper. It leaves my mouth with the pine sting, and just the slightest finish of flowers and spice.
On my way out, I look longingly at Tyler's row of bottled experiments. There's something dark called "liquid gold." I have to remind myself that it's a good thing I have more distilleries to try today. But it's very few places where you'll find such enthusiasm and willingness to go out on a limb. At Still the One Distillery, it has clearly paid off.