New England Distilling was founded in 2011 by Ned Wight with the intent of bringing back the 150 year old family legacy of distilling fine spirits. Focused on melding both history and technology, their distillation process is centered upon bringing out the best flavors in their products. Having never been on a distillery tour myself, I though this locale I had been hearing about provided the perfect opportunity.
We arrived for the last tour of the day on the tail end of another tour and were greeted by our guide who promptly took us around the one-room distillery located on Evergreen Dr. in Portland. He explained the distilling process in some depth and told us about the equipment used. Moments into the tour, we were climbing up a ladder to see the fermentation of some soon-to-be rum. Shortly after that, we were checking out the copper still and smelling the product from different points in the distilling process.
I enjoyed learning about the grains, molasses, and yeast that contribute to the culmination of great spirits, but after staring at the beautiful barrels of unbottled booze, I was definitely ready to try the products. New England Distilling has two products currently – Ingenium Dry Gin and Eight Bells Rum – with an as-of-yet-unnamed rye whiskey on the way this month. We proceeded to the front counter ready to try a couple sips of the rum and gin but were told we could also try the new rye before it came out in stores.
Reaching into my imaginary bag, I pulled out my imaginary drinking hat, put it on my real head, and got ready to try some unreal liquor. The first pour was rye, but that was just to let it “open up” while we tried the rest. While the rye figuratively chilled, we got to experience the rum. The Eight Bells Rum was nice – a bit sweet with the full punch you’d expect from straight rum.
After the rum was done, we got a taste of the gin. It was described as a “sipping gin”. Now I’ve heard of and tried sipping vodkas, whiskeys, and tequilas, but never a sipping gin. Frankly, I’m not a gin drinker, so the thought of sipping it brings up nightmares of being crushed under the weight of a giant pine tree and rotting in a pile of pine needles. We were assured though that this was not the case with the Ingenium.
Nervously, I put my plastic shot glass to my lips, having added the portion the missus didn’t drink from hers. “Mmmhummm…wow, not bad.” It was true. The Ingenium was a less harsh, less pine needle-ly gin. I let it sit with me for a minute. I thought to myself that I might actually be able to drink gin. It was quite a revelation, but one I was very happy to stumble upon. I prepared for the rye.
When I tried the rye, I got a hint of flavor that I thought I also got from the gin. I was happy to be reminded that they at least have some similar ingredients, so I wasn’t just imagining it. The rye was good, but I was still taken with the gin. I felt that out of all three spirits, I was most likely to buy the Ingenium. It will probably be the only gin I buy in the future.
With samples finished, we asked about the prices of merchandise. New England Distillery has some pretty cool branded items for sale including some really neat wooden barrels which hold varying amounts of your favorite spirits. They have some nice looking glasses, whiskey disks, bottles of liquor, of course, and a bunch of other items. Distribution of the liquor is spread out throughout the northeast and locally the spirits are available at Hannaford, RSVP, and local restaurants, among other places.
Before leaving, we picked up some glasses and whiskey disks which I’ve considered buying for a while. Whiskey disks are meant to be kept in the freezer and dumped in your whiskey to literally chill it without diluting it. I bet they’ll work great with the new rye product.
Overall, I had a great time at New England Distillery. I learned about the distilling process, got to try some spirits, and picked up a couple trinkets for my bar. Give them a call yourself and grab a tour. It only takes about a half hour, but it’s a pretty good time.
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