Magnolia Whiskey. Cooks Rye. 33 Star Gin. Liquor brands which haven't exactly stood the test of time, whose names are all but lost to history. They, and many other now-forgotten brands, were distilled in New York, which had a pretty fair-sized distilling industry until 1920, when the 18th Amendment -- also known as Prohibition -- became the law of the land. Prohibition wiped out distilling in the Empire State to such an extent that it wasn't possible to make a Manhattan or a New Yorker or a Bronx cocktail with locally made booze until the 21st century.
Today, however, the New York spirits scene is likely stronger than it was a hundred years ago, with distilleries statewide earning critical kudos and valuable space on bar shelves both in and out of the state. What better way for a New Yorker to toast the 80th anniversary of Repeal this Friday than with a glass of something locally made and delicious?
The only question is, which brands to try? Take a sip of New York booze and by the time you've put down your glass another two distilleries have sprouted up. Thankfully, there's an alternative to going to your local liquor store or watering hole, scratching your head and looking puzzled. The Village Voice Holiday Spirits Tasting Event is setting up shop on Repeal Day (as December 5th is called by the cocktailian set and should be called by everyone, everywhere) at Studio Square in lovely Long Island City. And we're not just talking any spirits. We're talking New York spirits.
The vast majority of the two dozen-plus brands available for the tasting are among New York's finest. There's something for just about anyone with a functioning liver and a working set of taste buds, from Greenhook Ginsmiths gin to Owney's Original New York City Rum to Widow Jane bourbon and McKenzie rye. More esoteric offerings include Barrow's Intense Ginger Liqueur (maybe the finest ginger liqueur I've ever had), Sorel Artisinal Liqueur (dangerously easy to drink large quantities of it) and White Pike Whiskey (made with spelt, wheat and corn, this is one of the best un-aged "white dog" whiskeys around). Hell, there's even Asahi beer if you want it. No, it's not made in New York, but... no, actually I can't explain what it's doing here, apart from the fact that it has alcohol in it.
In addition to unlimited spirits and cocktail sampling (for better or worse), you'll also get hors d'oeuvres, a Prohibition era-styled jazz combo and, for the more millennially-minded, a DJ set, all for a mere $50 (a crazy $25 with a special promotional code; check the website for details). VIP tickets, which buy you an extra hour of less-crowded imbibing time, are a still-reasonable $70.
There should be a law that everyone of age who enjoys the pleasures of alcoholic beverage has to tipple on Repeal Day... although look what happened the last time the federal government tried to regulate drinking. OK, forget about a law. But drinking on December 5th should be like voting on Election Day -- a right, a privilege, and a duty. So this year, exercise your right and do your duty New York style. Of course, enjoy all good things in moderation -- the last thing you want to do with locally made spirits is regurgitate them on your shoes.