I grew up in New York, and while most equate “New York” with “New York City”, there are actually a great deal of distinct areas within the state. My hometown in Westchester County is vastly different from my wife’s experience in Orange County only 60 miles apart. And that’s not even getting into regions like Syracuse, the Finger Lakes, Adirondacks, etc. Each area has unique qualities, and today we’re looking at a product from a Long Island distillery that tries to capture some of the local culture in a bottle.
During prohibition, distilleries within the United States withered and died in droves. That includes all of the distilleries on Long Island in New York. Even after prohibition, the draconian laws in New York State stifled innovation and business for decades to come, and it was only with Tuthilltown Spirits in 2003 that a legal distillery re-opened in the state.
Founded in 2007, Long Island Spirits is a company located on the northern fork of Long Island that’s dedicated to using local ingredients and sustainable practices.
The whiskey is named for the Pine Barrens, a swath of protected land on Long Island that is filled with pine trees. Long Island was created at the foot of massive glaciers that once rolled across New York state, and the fertile soil on Long Island is the result of all that dirt being collected and deposited in one place.
As will be no surprise to many, the process for making beer and making whiskey starts out exactly the same. In this case, the whiskey starts with English 2-row barley and Vienna malt which is cooked and fermented into a beer-like mash by Blue Point Brewing (another brewery on Long Island). At this point, they go through all of the processes of adding hops and straining out the excess organic matter to create a 70 IBU / 10% ABV beer that’s ready to be bottled.
Some of this beer is available for purchase, available and sold under the name Old Howling Bastard. But some of it is sent to Long Island Spirits to be turned into whiskey.
In that instance, the beer is batch distilled in Long Island Spirits’ pot still before being put into American oak barrels for aging a minimum of at least one year. Once the whiskey is done it is bottled and shipped out for us to enjoy.
Overall, the bottle is a pretty standard design that you’d expect from a small distillery. It sports a rounded short body, a rapidly tapering shoulder, and a short neck that’s wrapped in foil. The stopper itself is plastic with a synthetic cork portion.
Something that gave me some trouble was that I couldn’t find an easy open pull tab on the foil. Typically, there’s a small tab that allows the end user to quickly open the foil and get to the stopper, but in this case that simply didn’t exist. I needed to break out the wine opener and use the little foil knife on the end to get it open. Not necessarily the end of the world, but something to note.
I don’t like when labels obscure the entire bottle, and this is no different. The paper label seems to be unnecessarily large and obscure all of the bottle, which means I can’t actually see the whiskey inside.
That said, the label itself looks pretty good. It’s designed to look like a vintage horticultural drawing, complete with yellowed paper and appropriate block lettering. It’s a good looking bottle on the shelf in general.
While a single malt whiskey and a bourbon are considered to be in the same family of spirits, typically a bourbon will have a bolder flavor and a single malt will display some more subtle attributes. In this case, it smells like the best of both worlds, with the sweet caramel and honey aromas mixing in with the Cheerios-esque aroma that’s typical of a malty spirit.
The flavor is something that I didn’t expect. I went into this tasting blind, before I did the research needed to fill out the “History” and “Product” sections, and the very first thing that came to my mind was that I was drinking an IPA beer in liquor form. I get a bit of pleasant bitterness from the hoppy flavors and there’s the delicious crisp-yet-malty quality usually associated with an IPA beer, which comes right behind. I also detect a bit of spice in there, specifically some clear notes of nutmeg with maybe a touch of cinnamon. On the finish, there’s some caramel sweetness that rounds the whole thing out.
Overall it’s a damn delicious spirit.
Typically with the addition of some ice, the more delicate flavors are drowned out in the spirit and only the strong survive. In this case, some of those delicate flavors make it through and are still making themselves known, but it’s much more of a traditional single malt profile.
The hoppy qualities are significantly toned down to the point where they’re more of a background curiosity than the main event. What I’m predominantly getting from the glass is oak flavors, like you’d expect from a wet oak barrel. There’s some caramel and vanilla there as well, but it’s more of a mixed bag.
That’s not to say it’s “bad” — far from it — it’s just more of a traditional expression without much of the character that you get when taking it neat.
Note: as with other single malt whiskies, we omitted the old fashioned and mule tests. If you’re looking for something to use in those, you’ll probably want a rye or a bourbon.
It seems like there’s a niche of distillers who produce a proper beer (rather than just a disgusting “distiller’s beer”) before the distillation process, such as with Copperworks’ offerings, and I’m really enjoying the flavors that come as a result. It’s an interesting twist on whiskey, adding some new aspects to the flavor profile, and in this case I think the results speak for themselves.
Pine Barrens American Single Malt Whiskey
Owner: Long Island Spirits
Production: Patchogue, NY and Baiting Hollow, NY
Classification: Single malt whiskey
Grain bill: 100% malted barley
Aging: Roughly one year
Proof: 47.5% ABV
Price: $93.98/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 3/5
Expensive, but delicious.