Our First Modern Whiskey

Bottles of Pine Barrens Single Malt Whisky

The Long Island Pine Barrens, an undeveloped expanse of pitch pine, oak and wetland communities within Suffolk County, spans approximately 100,000 acres, encompasses three towns (Brookhaven, Riverhead and Southampton) and the Peconic River, and contains a diverse habitat of plant, fish and wildlife species indigenous to Long Island.

It is also the geographic intermediate of, and inspiration for, Long Island Spirits and Blue Point Brewing Company, which unified respective alcohol artistries to produce Pine Barrens, Long Island’s first local-created whiskey since Prohibition.

“Our distillery and their brewery are situated on opposite sides of the Pine Barrens, so it made perfect sense to use that to represent the collaboration,” says Richard Stabile, founder and proprietor of Long Island Spirits. “It’s the process of joining together.”

Stabile, who opened the Baiting Hollow–based distillery within a renovated barn in 2008, uses hand-peeled potatoes to create LiV Vodka, Long Island Spirits’ small-batched flagship. The company has also made some small runs of brandy and other spirits in conjunction with local wineries.

In 2009 Stabile was approached by Mark Burford, co-owner and brewmaster of Patchogue’s Blue Point Brewing Company, who expressed an interest to experiment with another alcohol form: whiskey. “Blue Point wanted to create something spirit-based with its beer, so we started messing around for fun,” says Stabile. “Most malt whiskeys start as an undrinkable in-house wort, but using a finished quality beer as a base gave us an opportunity to make something amazing.”

After sampling various beers within Blue Point Brewing Company’s portfolio, the two collaborators selected Old Howling Bastard, a semi-spiced barley wine with flavors of caramel, booze-heat, pine and fig. Possessing an ABV (alcohol-by-volume) of 10.0 percent, it is Blue Point Brewing Company’s strongest beer.

“It’s lightning in a bottle and possesses a lot of similar qualities to the whiskey we wanted to make,” says Stabile, who desired “full-bodied and smooth consistency” for Pine Barrens.

“Old Howling Bastard was a natural fit for Pine Barrens,” adds Burford. “Our strongest brew, taken to the next level.”

To create Pine Barrens, 800 gallons of Old Howling Bastard were subjected to a double-distillation process (yielding a final proof of 95, after periods of blending with purified water) and matured within 10-gallon casks of new American oak for one year. The use of 10-gallon casks, which increases surface area, and subsequently, whiskey-to-oak contact, according to Stabile, is the equivalent of aging with a 50-gallon cask for five years.

“The complexity for only a first-year whiskey is amazing,” says Stabile, who describes the copper-hued, single-malt spirit as “velvet smooth and spicy, with hints of nutmeg and caramel.” Though initially a five-batch collaboration (the first batch, released in April, was followed by another in May), due to positive response, LiV will continue to produce Pine Barrens with Blue Point Brewing Company as a year-round spirit. Stabile expects to bottle the third batch in August.

“The feedback from customers has been overwhelming. We’ve been blowing through bottles,” says Stabile. Burford concurs. “The Pine Barrens whiskey exceeded our expectations on every level.” Giddy with enthusiasm to be part of the small-batch hooch movement, the brewer adds, “We look forward to many more spirited adventures.”

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Niko Krommydas regularly contributes to several branches of Edible, including Brooklyn, Buffalo, East End, Hudson Valley, Long Island and Nutmeg. He is editor of Craft Beer New York, available on Android and iPhone, and a columnist for Long Island Pulse and Yankee Brew News.