New York City drives you to club and cocktail. I bellied up to the bar yet again, only this time in search of something dizzyingly potent. Whiskey was the balm of choice, its honey gold hue calling to me after a particularly grueling workday.
Since the night was young, I decided on a classic Manhattan. After all, ‘The Manhattan’ was the first cocktail to add sweet vermouth to whiskey in the 19th century. Concocted by Dr. Iain Marshall, The Manhattan was served at a Manhattan Club banquet in honor of the 25th governor of New York State, Samuel J. Tilden — a political reformer, presidential candidate, and ‘bourbon democrat.’ Sadly, Tilden lost the election to Rutherford B. Hayes, but it is in his honor that we still sip the illustrious and wildly popular drink.
The Puritans may have founded America, but it was the Dutch who established the first whiskey distillery on Staten Island, in what is today New Brighton. We should credit the Dutchmen for showing the Native Americans how to drink moonshine. But they really should’ve stopped there. Taking advantage of drunken Native Americans may have increased trade profits for a bit, but ended in the infamous Whiskey War that burned down both the Dutch homesteads and the distillery.
Brooklyn prides itself in running the oldest operating distillery — King’s County — at the old Brooklyn Navy Yard; they even grow the corn and barley next door. The borough is flush with several small spirits manufacturers who have set up industry from Sunset Park to Greenpoint. Sip some whiskey at Noorman’s Kil Bar in Williamsburg, where over 300 varieties of this liquid gold are served — a reflection of the borough’s discerning tastes.
In 2011, Dr. Renee Hernandez opened Tirado Distillery, the first legal hootch-manufacturing unit in the Bronx. One might be more familiar with the ‘Jims, Jacks, and Johnnys’ of the whiskey world, but in NYC, hard alcohol is just as international and diverse as its residents. Tirado Distillers, an artisanal farm distillery, sources organic New York corn, and utilizes an ethnic recipe resulting in the popular Tirado NY Corn Whiskey. Mix Tirado El Caribbe with passion fruit juice, and you’re spirited away from the Bronx to Puerto Rico — no plane ticket required!
A stop in Queens resulted in my finding the esteemed Astoria Whiskey Society, a collective started by Emily Ross-Johnson. Members meet every month to taste and converse about — you guessed it — whiskey. Becoming a member is easy — just join the mailing list and enjoy events, recipes and insider knowledge about all things white lightning.
Fellow New Yorker and notorious drinker Humphrey Bogart’s famous last words were, “I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis.”
I wholeheartedly agree.