In general, I'm more of a beer guy than a liquor guy. When I say beer, I mean the kind of beer that your old-ass uncle drinks when he goes fishing up north. Within a region that incubates and houses a phenomenal roster of craft brewing companies, I find I appreciate the process, flavor profiles and entrepreneurship more than I do drinking the actual product regularly. As my colleagues and friends can attest to, I am unabashedly fond of the "Uncle Dick" classics. High Life. PBR. Coors Light. I mean, one is technically the 'champagne of beers' and another one has been the grand prize winner of a shiny blue ribbon. Granted that ribbon was awarded centuries ago, but that shit is a WINNER.
Moving on. To liquor. I actually really enjoy liquor. I don't know too much about liquor. I know the basic kinds and what makes them different. I know how some are made and what they are made of. Ultimately, though, I know what I like to drink, and I know it gets me drunk. Fast.
Not too long ago Angela, our bar manager, along with Christine and myself, got the chance to hang out and tour the entire Cold River Distillery facility in Freeport, Maine. I went in with no real expectations. I've seen breweries, but never a distillery, so I entered the humble building on Route 1 in Freeport with fresh eyes and an excitement to take it all in.
First thing first, this is an award winning vodka. An internationally highly-regarded, nuanced, super-premium vodka. It's reputation for being an authentic and proudly Maine sourced spirit and positive economic indicator for the state has the product and company itself held in high regards by the community, and the world. I went in with that knowledge, and was a little pleasantly surprised when we were welcomed with open arms and supreme hospitality, and shown around the incredibly compact space that was as humble and small as the staff themselves.
Seeing the set up of the distillery, and the lengths they take to triple-distill the spirit with copper into ultimate refinement, left me with a greater respect for what it takes to achieve such a stellar end result. Seeing the enormous bags of fresh potatoes was a testament to their dedication to using whole Maine potatoes, as opposed to using potato starch like the 'other guys'. And seeing the small piece of equipment in the corner that the small staff uses to hand bottle and label each batch was incredibly humbling. These guys could be pushing buttons on automated equipment and cranking major levels of product, but that's not what this company is about. It's the small building, small staff, small equipment, small batches and intense focus that proliferates the atmosphere, mind set and production of an enormously inordinate quality and exclusivity. It makes for an intensely special end result.
I was enthralled with each step of the process, so I jumped in head first.
I tasted the porridge-esque mash, because why not ask? Why not try it? It tasted like cream of wheat that someone spiked to make their morning more enjoyable. An alcoholic's Wheaties.
I tried some straight ethanol. As close to Maine moonshine as possible. Touched it to the tip of my tongue and it damn near stole my breath. Several patches of chest hair emerged and immediately required combing.
I tried their Gin. Gin and I have a weird relationship. When I was around 10 I stole a sip off of my Mom's gin and tonic at Red Lobster, and my interpretation of it kind of stuck with me throughout my adult years. Nail polish remover and broccoli was the 10 year old me's flavor profile that followed that poor spirit around for decades. The cool, citrus laced botanicals and smooth drinkability shattered my prior experience, and put a happy and warm connotation to Cold River's Gin. It is strengthened by the fact that I immediately went back to our space and stole a bottle from our bar (we've been serving it at weddings for a while now) and took that baby straight home.
I also bought a big ass bottle of a special limited edition run of vodka that was aged in barrels, so it looked like bourbon and tasted like a whiskey kissed vodka. It reminded me of that person we've all known at one point in our lives that is a super hot and educated Russian debutante that grew up in Texas and rides a horse in a fur coat and cowboy boots. That came out weird. If anyone does know this person, though, PLEASE SEND PICS.
I left the distillery genuinely impacted by the welcoming hospitality, humble surroundings and dedication to an expert execution. It made me want to serve Cold River, and serve it proudly. It also made me want to drink Cold River. In between PBR's of course.
For more info on Cold River Vodkas and Gin, check them out at http://www.coldrivervodka.com or visit them on Route 1 in Freeport, Maine.