Across a field from where Jimi Hendrix played the most tripped out rendition of the Star Spangled Banner in 1969, there is a distillery. It’s called the Catskill Distilling Company and it’s located in Bethel, New York, about 100 miles northwest of NYC.
I set out on an epic journey through CDC’s roster of spirits, beginning with the Wicked White Whiskey and ending with the Most Righteous Bourbon – starting with excellent and ending with sublime, as put by my trusty guide Peter – not just to get day drunk, but to share with you, dear readers, the smooth spirits that are emerging from the fields of Woodstock.
Here are my tasting notes and some visuals of Wicked White Whiskey, Peace Vodka, Curious Gin, Buckweat Otay, Fearless Wheat Whiskey, Rye Whiskey and Most Righteous Bourbon. My MVP, in terms of best, most interesting flavor and the spirit I want to make a cocktail with was the Buckwheat Otay (which is essentially a whiskey but can’t technically be called a whiskey because it’s made with buckwheat). The prize for MIP (most improved player, you non little-league players) is the Curious Gin. As creator Dr. Monte Sachs said; it’s a gin for people who don’t like gin. Let’s get into it.
Wicked White Whiskey
Refined moonshine. That’s how Peter describes the white whiskey to me. But unlike your typical moonshine that tastes like straight alcohol and leaves you feeling like you’ve been kicked by a mule, this stuff is smooth. It’s also unique because it hasn’t been infused with any flavors. On the nose, I’m getting fresh cut grass. The taste is smoother than I expect and has traces of smokiness.
After I taste, Peter tells me we’ll be moving on to Vodka and Gin. I was planning on doing the whiskies and bourbons, I tell him. Errr, am I going to get wasted, mixing all these spirits? Peter assures me that as long as I’m not mixing grains and grapes (i.e. booze and wine) I should be fine. Onward.
This is a vodka made Russian style, using red winter wheat instead of potatoes. It’s also distilled three times rather than the typical six times. The result? A vodka that tastes like something. A vodka that you really do want to sip on ice and not just because you’re on a no-sugar diet.
The nose is buttery. Peter suggests buttered popcorn and I am transported to those jelly belly buttered popcorn jelly jeans. Yum.
It’s no wonder this is called Curious Gin because the nose is insanely aromatic, and has you wondering – what is this herby goodness I’m smelling? Juniper berry, pine, peppercorn … Importantly, the gin isn’t charcoal filtered, allowing all of the botanicals to sing. Also important, all of the grains used to make this gin are locally grown (!) except for the malted barley because it’s impossible to find locally.
The other curiosity about this gin is it has a lower proof than popular gins. The ratio of alcohol to distilled water is lower, making this an exceptionally drinkable gin that doesn’t need to be masked by sweet tonic water.
Lest you start thinking that you missed the boat on a rare spirit called Otay, the name is purely a creation of CDC. Buckwheat, the Little Rascal anyone? O-tay!
Needless to say, the Otay is made with buckwheat (80%, the rest is malted barley and corn). Buckwheat is not a grain. It’s part of the rhubarb family and that’s why we can’t call this a whiskey, even though it’s made in the whiskey method. CDC is only aware of one other distillery that uses buckwheat in a whiskey-like spirit. Reason being it’s a messy operation – something about the buckwheat getting clumped up in the still and the result is a pain to clean. But the result is a brilliantly deep spirit with a real terroir – you can taste an earthy wheaty-ness. Peter suggests buckwheat pancakes. I don’t quite get the pancakes but can envision a boozy breakfast pairing involving pancakes and the Otay….
I’m feeling a bit saucy at this point and start thinking about which cocktail I’ll order when I’m done. Moving into the big guns.
Fearless Wheat Whiskey
This wheat whiskey is aged for at least two years inside barrels made of American oak, the insides of which have been scorched.
The smell is sweet, like pears and honey. It makes my mouth water.
The taste is is smokier than the others, you can really distinguish that char, but there’s also a dollop of the honey sweetness.
Defiant Rye Whiskey
Rye used to be more popular. Rye and ginger, for example, or a rye Manhattan. It’s making a comeback, people. And this rye whiskey is decadent. The nose has a thick sweetness like molasses, brown sugar and maybe a hint of vanilla. It’s soft on the tongue – you can let it sit in your mouth for a few moments and really search for those nuisances. Again I’m tasting that rich molasses flavor.
Most Righteous Bourbon
And finally, the piece de resistance. The Gold Metal Winner. The prize-winning bourbon. Let’s start with the color – it’s amber like that cane thing in Jurassic Park. Y’all know what I’m talking about. The nose is caramel and cream and the taste is sweet, but not cloyingly so,with bursts of spiciness. It’s balanced. It’s perfect. Maybe even sublime.
Now I’m ready for a drink. I settle on the Manhattan made with the Buckwheat Otay and a dash of Catskills Maple syrup. I considered ending this with something cheesy like “It rocked!” or “It was made with peace, love and happiness,” but let’s not cheapen the experience. It was really good. And I would tell all of my friends to visit CDC.
Article by: Caitlin Gunther