Which isn't to say that I didn't get to taste a lot at this year's fourth annual Indie Spirits Expo. Two of the standouts for me were new releases from established local(ish) distilleries. Journeyman in Three Oaks, Michigan, has been making excellent whiskeys for several years now, and has had a cocktail with white whiskey and apple cider on the menu in their tasting room for quite a while. Just recently they started bottling a modified version of it, which like the original cocktail is called O.C.G. (Old Country Goodness), and it just arrived in Chicago last week. It's ten percent alcohol, but the white whiskey fades into the background behind the sweet-tart apple and warm cinnamon flavors. And while I had it over ice, it would be equally good served warm.
I was excited to see Riverside's Quincy Street Distillery in attendance, because when I went out there this spring to interview owner Derrick Mancini for a story I was writing about local distilleries, it was 10 AM and I didn't try any of his spirits. I liked the spicy, in-your-face Steamship Rye, and enjoyed his four-month-old Bourbon Spring (which he likes to call a "teenage bourbon") more than I expected; while it wasn't refined, all the flavors were pleasant, and I can see how it would go well in cocktails. In a couple months Mancini will release his two-year-old bourbon, at which point he'll retire the younger version.made in Canada, but the brand is now starting to make its own whiskey). Incredibly spicy and complex, it tasted like honey, oak, and blackberry, with less of an alcoholic burn than I'd expect from a 100-proof whiskey—though as I sipped, the burn quickly increased. They also had the soon-to-be-released Boss Hog, aged for nearly 14 years and bottled at about 120 proof. This year's version, called the Spirit of Mortimer after owner Raj Bhakta's recently deceased pig, is sweet and smooth—again, surprisingly smooth given the high alcohol content, with more vanilla and a toasty maple syrup flavor.
I was disappointed that one distillery turned out to be a no-show, however. After all the outrage in the past few months over the fact that factory distillery MGPI in Indiana makes whiskey for many craft whiskey brands, including Templeton Rye, I was intrigued to see that they would have a booth at the Indie Spirits Expo. The table that was supposed to be theirs, though, was unoccupied, so I never got to find out what they might have been pouring.
Julia Thiel writes about booze on Thursdays.