Finger Lakes Distilling

Over the 4th of July weekend I had the chance to relax in New York state's Finger Lakes region, catching some fish, catching some rays, and even touring a new micro-distillery on the shore of Lake Seneca. The finger lakes area is well-known for its vineyards and wineries, of which it has over 100, and while a few vineyards and orchards distill fruit-based spirits in the region, Finger Lakes Distilling, which opened in 2008, is the area's first stand-alone distillery.

Finger Lakes Distilling (FLD) is currently producing a wide range of products from their bestselling Seneca Drums Gin to various grappas, cordials, and whiskies. FLD offers a taste of any three spirits for $2 which seems to be the going rate for tastings at most Finger Lakes wineries as well. If you go with a friend you can each try three and share, meaning you can each have a sip of six different drinks for $4! On top of that, the cost of the tasting applies towards any bottles you purchase which is nice since FLD's bottled spirits are priced towards the premium end of the scale, as most craft distilled products are.

I was very interested in trying the whiskeys, but since I had six choices I started with the Seneca Drums Gin which was actually very good. I've been spoiled by Philadelphia Distilling's Bluecoat Gin, but the Seneca Drums might be even more drinkable, and although it's lacking a bit in complexity, it will certainly appeal to 'on the fence' gin drinkers who don't want to be overpowered by botanicals. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that FLD offered their own brand of tonic water to complement their gin.

From the gin I moved on to the grappa which was also very good, and then into the meat of the tasting - the whiskies. I first tried the Glen Thunder corn whiskey, an unaged white dog that had all the harshness and bite you'd expect from a legal moonshine. I've had white dogs that I really liked, but I'll pass on this one. After the Glen Thunder, the mellow, smooth McKenzie bourbon was a very nice surprise. I brought home a bottle of that one, so I'll do a full tasting review in a separate post. For now I'll just say that it stacks up well against other bourbons in its price range ($45 per bottle) which is saying quite a lot, especially coming from a native Kentuckian like myself. I also tasted cassis and cherry liqueurs and the Maplejack Liqueur which sounded like a lot of good things on paper - apple brandy aged in bourbon barrels and mixed with local maple syrup - but was a little disappointing to taste, although I must admit my taste buds were starting to burn out by that point.

I visited Finger Lakes Distilling on a holiday weekend, and the weekend of the Indycar race at nearby Watkin's Glen race track, so FLD's small tasting room and gift shop were packed. I'd like to go back on a quieter day so that I could take more time with the tasting and hear more about the distillery from the knowledgeable staff who all seemed to be close friends or family of the founder, Brian McKenzie. Brian started the distillery after tiring of his career as a banker in the Finger Lakes region. He partnered up with another unrelated Mr. McKenzie, Thomas Earl McKenzie from Alabama, and who is now FLD's master distiller. They lent their shared last name to the McKenzie Bourbon and based on their namesake product I'd say they're a good team so far.

While no tour was offered, the tasting room has a great view of the distillery's beautiful copper still - a custom made pot still with a rectification column. The still was made by Bavarian Holstein of Germany and was spitting out a run of the Glen Thunder corn whiskey while I was there. The building that houses this still, along with various barrels of aging spirits, and the tasting room/gift shop was designed to resemble a Scottish distillery, and it sits on a hillside, nestled among vineyards, looking out over over Lake Seneca. At first glance you'd never guess that the building was built only two years ago and boasts many modern, green features.

According to FLD's website, they make a rye whiskey which is finished in sherry barrels. Since I didn't see this on the tasting menu or in the gift shop during my visit I guess I'll have to make a second trip. Unfortunately, a road trip to this lovely distillery is the easiest way to come by Finger Lakes Distilling's products if you're from outside New York State. On the upside, a trip to the Finger Lakes isn't such a bad liquor run if you ask me.