Aquavit, an unusual choice? Too risky a spirit for a craft distiller?
Not really… Make what you love and you will succeed!
While recently traveling and visiting Scandinavian countries, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, not only did I absolutely fall in love with the cities, the people and the food, but also the spirit of their spirits!
I was first introduced to Aquavit in Norway and instantly fell in love! Murray’s Fools Distilling Co. had only developed one product at the time and it was still going to be three products and two years later until I was finally able to create my very own spirit, Osprey Aquavit.
My recipe was definitely not a random spontaneous combination, I did some deep research on traditional and modern recipes and the entire production processes.
I created three individual ‘recipes’ and using my petite copper pot still, I began my experiments! So much fun! They were all very different, with distinct flavors; however all used the traditional caraway and dill base. I was very happy with the results!
To select a final recipe, I brought together a discreet focus group of bartenders, gourmet chefs, Scandinavians, foodies and a couple that had never even tried Aquavit! So much fun! We ate Scandinavian foods, shared stories, and sampled recipes. It was still serious business however, everyone recorded their tasting notes and scores without interacting with each other and the result…all but one person voted for the same recipe! They all also provided some much needed and valued feedback on how they might like to see the spirit enhanced.
Now that I had my recipe I was ready to roll in the big mama stills!
As a traditional celebratory drink, this spirit needed the perfect name. We were inspired by Terrace Lodge, a camp W.H.H. Murray had owned on Osprey Island in Raquette Lake, NY. A camp where, on a regular basis, Murray celebrated the joys of the natural world with friends and family. And so it was, our new spirit was labeled Osprey Aquavit.
This spirit is typically served on special occasions, chilled in very small Aquavit glass, however I have found it makes an amazing Danish Mary (or Danish Murray we like to call it) and a fabulous Negroni!
It is a wonderful feeling to create something you love and enjoy and have the opportunity share it with those who also appreciate fine spirits. I am so proud to see this product on liquor store shelves and hear the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ of those who try it.
Murray’s Fools Distilling Co., located in Altona, is the first distillery operating in Clinton County, New York since Prohibition. As a new business in an industry historically shrouded in legal and political ups and downs, I thought it would be interesting and entertaining to see who was operating in the area before us.
When we began our adventure I did some quick research to see who the movers and shakers in the distilling world were during the last couple of centuries. In my first shallow dig I found…nothing. Finding it hard to believe we were the first ever legal distillery in the area, I sought out resources that could help me dig deeper and, sure enough, once I found a couple of breadcrumbs I was on my way to discovering some interesting facts about distilling in Clinton County pre-pro!
I found a few not so prominent characters such as Mr. WM Flack who operated right next door to Colonel Fillimore’s Tavern located in Chazy Village, and who, in the early 1800’s, was trying to sell his brewery and distillery ‘…very cheap’ as advertised in the Plattsburgh Republican.
Another gentleman, James Kennedy of Plattsburgh Distillery, was seen regularly advertising in the Plattsburgh Republican in the mid-1800s. Kennedy offered quarts of whiskey in exchange for bushels of rye and corn.
There was even rumored to be a man named Joseph Blanchard who was arrested in 1899 in Churubusco for having an illegal distillery hidden in his house, known as the "Old Martin Homestead". It was said that his distillery was capable of turning out four barrels of whiskey a day and that local detectives had been watching the man suspiciously for 15 years.
The most recognized distillery of note however was Isaac Merkel & Sons. Merkel ran both a brewery and a distillery which made whiskey. Their flagship brand was called "Bachelor Rye," named for his son Aaron. Other brands included "Clinton County Club," Wedding Bouquet," and "Wedding Bouquet Pure Rye." Merkel operated facilities in both Plattsburgh and Saranac Lake, and was in business roughly from 1878 until the start of Prohibition, c. 1919.
Merkel and his wife set out for the United States from Germany in 1867 and settled in Plattsburgh, Clinton County, New York. He first worked as a peddler as he and his wife started their family of five children. Later, he established a brewery, a distillery and distributorship, and ultimately a department store.
His son, David, was listed as his partner in the whiskey business, Isaac Merkel & Sons. A 1913 Plattsburgh city directory lists them as “rectifiers and wholesale liquor dealers, bottlers and jobbers in cigars.” Their plant and office was at 56-50 Bridge St. and their retail store at 22-24 Bridge.
Over the past decade there has been a huge cocktail renaissance. With this mixology reawakening, we now have a surplus of information in the form of books, blogs and websites.
In the beginning of this resurgence the information was still a little limited and resources were scant. The cocktail world went from 0-60 on the ‘access to information’ scale. This rapid ramp up has its ups and downs. On one hand, you now have access to a lot of very specific information about techniques, equipment, famous bartenders and bars, both vintage and contemporary cocktails, spirit specific drinks, historical chronicles and so on. On the other hand, all this information can be overwhelming and have you wondering ‘what is the BEST information?’ and ‘how do I choose?’.
I recently visited a local bookstore and the section on cocktails was HUGE! I usually peruse and then decide what I want to purchase now and/or later. Within minutes I found myself juggling at least four new books I was interested in; a book all about Shrubs, another on bitters and an Amari guide, one about cocktails with a literary twist and another about infusing… I wanted them all! So I jot down my list and ask friends and family if they’ve read any and look at reviews. My advice to you is to go with your gut. You are the only person who truly knows what you like and what you really enjoy. Reading is a subjective experience after all!
However, if you are interested in some reviews and/or recommendations, I am happy to share a few of my (recent) favorites.
Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails
By Ted Haigh
This book is great for planning parties!
Favorite things about this book:
The Drunken Botanist
By Amy Stewart
This book is for learning and creating!
I really enjoyed this book because:
By David Wondrich
A book from a master to increase your knowledge and be the life of the cocktail party!
In homage to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, pioneer of the American bar, this book delves into the little-known history of the great classic American cocktails.
What I love about this book:
Tea Cocktails: A Mixologist’s Guide to Legendary Tea-Infused Cocktails
By Abigail R. Gehring
A book for entertaining on porches and patios!
I loved this book last year and just took it off the shelf and dusted it off in preparation of ‘porch weather’!
This book I loved because:
The only complaint I have about this book is that it is very heavy on the Teatulia Organic Teas and tea flavors and terms info. However, it is produced by them with the author so despite all the additional (and for me unnecessary information) I made some amazing tea cocktails last summer and am looking forward to making many more this year!
What’s on my wishlist?
Shrubs: An Old Fashioned Drink for Modern Times
A book all about the vintage drink mixer - Shrubs.
In fact I think I’ll visit my local bookstore right after I post this blog!
Looking for an unrivaled unique gift for that adventurous person in your life who enjoys drinking a bit of fine?
I’ve found some pretty amazing items to order online, and the good news is there’s still time to get the spirit lover in your life a perfect gift!
(click photos in slideshows to link to purchase sites)
Great Gifts Under $20
Fabulous Items Between $25-$50
Exquisite Choices $60 and above
Thanksgiving dinner and drink pairings have traditionally meant ‘which wine do I serve with the turkey?’… however, it is never too late to start new traditions and surprise your guests by introducing some spirit to the table!
Friends and Family Greeting:
Many gatherings begin with a toast. When your guests arrive and begin socializing, offer them a sparkling ‘Glory Mora’ and toast to friends and family while nibbling on hors-d'oeuvres.
The ‘Glory Mora’ is a sloe gin sparkling pomegranate drink designed by MFD Company. ‘Glory Mora’ was the stage name of one of W.H.H. Murray’s four daughters, Ethel, who appeared in New York City shows and other performances.
Click here to see the 'Glory Mora' recipe.
Looking at elaborate party dinner menus of the past, the menu frequently began with oysters. This year why not try an oyster appetizer with a Laphroaig Cairdeas. The peaty smoke beautifully pairs with the fresh oyster.
The Main Event:
Celebrate the evening and the main course by raising a glass of vintage cocktail with friends and family. Excite your appetite with The ‘Uprooted Tree’ created by Murray’s Fools Distilling Co.
This cocktail is an excellent gin aperitif and a refreshing sipper during the meal. Gin cocktails are perfect for the traditional Thanksgiving dinner because they are light, pair well with a variety of side dishes and the botanicals form an ideal counterpart for such a flavorful meal.
The ‘Uprooted Tree’ is a Genever and Ginger Apple Hard Cider Cocktail created by MFD Co.
Click here to see the Uprooted Tree recipe.
Click here to watch the Thanksgiving Cocktail video!
The Sweet Spot:
I don’t know about you, but at our house there are usually more desserts than side dishes! This is why it is so fun to offer a flight of Scotches or Bourbons to match and taste with all the sweet treats during dessert.
There are so many different options you could put together, however here are a few ideas to get you started. Murray’s Fools Distilling Co. always likes to look for local spirits to try and we definitely encourage you to do the same, especially when sharing at dinner parties!
Scotch Dessert Flight
The Macallan 18 Year (full-bodied rich whiskey): Great with desserts like sticky toffee pudding, gingerbread, and anything dark chocolate.
Dalwhinnie (light fragrant with a little sweetness): So wonderful with soft cheeses, bread puddings and custards.
Balvenie Medeira Cask 17 Year (rich, deep and complex): Excellent pair with pecan or apple pie.
or try this flight....
Bourbon Dessert Flight
Elijah Craig (full, sweet, toasty oak bourbon): Beautiful balance with pecan pie and toffee desserts.
Booker’s Bourbon (intense fruit and oak flavors): Delicious with apple pie!
Bulleit Bourbon (high rye content with vanilla aroma): Works great with anything chocolate.
Loosening the Belt:
The table is cleared and you are sitting back in your comfy chair loosening your belt… cue the digestif. The most important drink of the day, a post-dinner digestif cocktail! After the feast, move yourself away from the table and sit back and relax with a Brandy Alexander in your hand!
1 ounce Cognac
1 ounce Crème de Cacao
1 ounce fresh cream
Add everything into a shaker of ice, shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Top with nugmeg.
Cheers to You and Have a Happy Thanksgiving!
Our Whiskey Tasting Club all started with a sip…Keeping the passion burning was the trick! | Four Ways To Rekindle Your Club's Fire
The Murray’s Fools team moved our private home into a new (but historically old) neighborhood a few years ago. We immediately learned that there were a lot of fun, interesting, intelligent and like-minded foodies in our 120+ household community.
We enjoyed whiskey and thought it might be fun to start a whiskey tasting club in our neighborhood. We did our research on how to create a place where we could taste new spirits, share some of our favorites and build camaraderie around brown spirits.
We began our neighborhood’s Whiskey Tasting Club in September 2013. At our first meeting we had ten interested neighbors show up, and we talked about and voted on how we would set our new club up all while tasting a very large variety that included Scotch, Rye, Bourbon, Irish Whisky and a Canadian Whisky. Now, two years later we are still going strong with 32 members!
All of this came about long before Murray’s Fools was even a twinkle in our eye, and now it is so much sweeter to see the club really flourish as we are in the process of launching our own spirit business! It is a dream of ours that our spirits will be part of a tasting by the group in 2016.
I won’t say it was all smooth sailing to get a club like this to keep its momentum. We did have a few dips in interest, but we managed to rekindle the fire. Here’s how we did it with FOUR easy adjustments:
4 Helpful Hints to Keep Your Whiskey Club Momentum Going:
1. Structure: Create clear guidelines of what the group is for, what is expected from each member financially and as a host. We have a written set of guidelines that we shared with members via our Private Facebook page:
Who the group is for? All of our tastings are held at our member's private homes, and therefore it was determined that the group was specifically for neighborhood residents only. That doesn’t mean guests are not welcomed, it is required, however, that the person bringing a guest let the host know when they RSVP.
What is financially expected of each member? In the beginning we set membership at $100/year, and we rotated around the neighborhood for hosting. We found that paying membership fees didn’t really work, and that setting a $100 maximum/3 different bottle minimum hosting budget, and relying on regular attendees to host at least once a year works well for everyone, and this has encouraged new members to join (and host)!
When to host? We do our best to host regularly scheduled meetings. We’ve found hosting on a weekday towards the end of the work week (i.e. Wed/Thurs) at 7pm worked well for most people. Keeping a routine schedule helps members remember and plan.
2. Communication: Establish a place for the group to keep in touch and keep camaraderie going outside of the monthly tasting. We chose to create a private Facebook page as our communication hub.
What to share? Our club members post all kinds of information regularly on our page. Everything from whiskey cocktail recipes, other local tasting events, jokes, our own tasting event photos to club information is shared in our online Facebook community.
Invitations and RSVPs: Provide an area that everyone in the club has access to for sending invitations and collecting RSVPs. Since all of our members are on our Facebook page, we use the event invitation application on there. One of the administrators posts the event at the beginning of the month, inviting the entire group membership.
3. Club Documentation: Learn what’s important for the group to have knowledge of and keep the information and documents regularly updated through your established communication channel. The three most important documents for our group are:
4. Fun and Flexibility
Enjoy yourselves! Don’t let your members fret over having the ‘right’ food or best tasting. Everyone hosts differently, and that’s what makes it interesting and fun! It is all about trying new things and sharing the experience.
Be flexible: It doesn’t always have to be about the whiskey. We’ve had cocktail events where members experience the brown spirit in the form of three different vintage cocktails. We’ve also had members who have traveled and brought back favorite spirits of different countries which weren’t necessarily brown spirits. We’re also planning new adventures in 2016, e.g. a ‘Progressive Drink and Dine’ where we will stop at select members’ homes for a drink and an appetizer or two; a potential bottling party at a local distillery, as well as visits from local distillery owners.
A whiskey tasting club is truly a fun group to be a part of whether you are new to whiskey or a connoisseur. If you’re interested in hosting your own whiskey tasting and don’t know where to start here are some general ideas of what you might need:
Whiskey: (Rye, Bourbon, Scotch, Irish, Canadian etc.) Our group likes to have at least three different bottles to sample at each tasting, whether it’s a theme or an eclectic variety it doesn’t really matter.
Tasting Glasses: Small 5.5/6 oz. glasses work well.
Water: Have a pitcher of water handy for those who like to add a small splash to their drink or for cleansing in between tastings.
Tasting notes: These are always fun either oral or written. We’re all there for the tasting AND the learning. Our hosts spend time researching which bottles to select, and then share the information they’ve learned about the distillery, tasting notes and any other notes of interest.
Food : Some purists say eating food at a tasting is unrefined, but we like to ensure our guests have something to eat while they’re imbibing. There doesn’t need to be a lot of food, and it doesn’t need to be gourmet. However, those interested in whiskey tasting generally do have some pretty complex tastes.Here are some suggestions that can be simply prepared and should please everyone:
If you have any other questions about how we’ve started our club or how our members host a tasting, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will do my very best to answer your query!
Co-founder of Murray's Fools Distilling Co. | Altona, NY