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Stories by the sip

New craft distilleries offer alternatives to ‘mindless corporate booze’

Two James Boulevard Cocktail from Foolish Things Bar and Biscuit

Greg Bollinger

Carey Bringle lost his right leg to bone cancer when he was 17 years old. The Nashville native grew up around barbecue culture, and after surviving cancer, he applied his newly-discovered optimistic (if morbid) sense of humor to his life’s work. His barbecue joint, Peg Leg Porker, has been in national publications, including Bon Appétit and Eater, and he’s been featured on Food Network, TLC, and major news networks.

In 2012, Bringle released his first batch of Peg Leg Porker Straight Bourbon Whiskey. The eight-year version is now widely available in Oklahoma, and there is a very limited amount of the 12-year available. Whiskey and barbecue are close cousins, and Bringle uses his skills as a pitmaster to enhance the flavor and finish of Peg Leg Porker by filtering the finished product through hickory chips after it leaves the barrel, a process that produces a clean, dry finish, with a touch of smoke as homage to his first love.

Bringle’s story is compelling, both for its tragedy and ultimate success—and a new crop of craft spirits that have arrived in Oklahoma over the past year bring with them their own unique stories.

“I think the story gives people a human connection to what they’re drinking,” said Clayton Bahr, brand manager for Tulsa-based Artisan Fine Wine & Spirits. “If you care about craft spirits, you care about the story behind the brand. Where did it come from? Why? Who makes it? Honestly, who wants to drink mindless corporate booze if you can drink craft spirits that are made with intention?”

Artisan is the Oklahoma representative for the Townshend’s Distillery lines of botanical spirits from Portland. Townshend is a second brand from Brew Dr. Kombucha Company, a line of the fermented drinks available in Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s nationwide. Alcohol is a byproduct of the kombucha-making process, and most kombucha producers sell it off as industrial alcohol, but Brew Dr. started distilling theirs and selling it under the counter—illegally, at the time.

“Ultimately, they bought a centrifugal still, and because they were a tea-factory to start with, they produced spirits with distinct tea flavors,” Bahr said.

To get the purest essence of what Townshend’s is doing, try the White Rose, a neutral spirit made with white tea and rose petals. The alcohol is 40 percent, so it’s very easy to drink neat, or you can combine two ounces of White Rose and 3/4 ounce of a blanc vermouth to make an aromatic martini.

Doc’s Wine & Food and Yokozuna both carry Townshend’s products, including the Bluebird Alpine Liqueur, which Bahr describes as Christmas in a bottle. When the weather turns cold, just add the Bluebird to hot chocolate; it’s not a cocktail per se, but no one who tastes it will make fun of you for it.

From Kansas City comes Tom’s Town Distilling Company, an homage to Tom Pendergast, a bartender-turned-politician who kept producing booze during Prohibition. The line from Tom’s Town includes a botanical gin that’s made to drink neat, and Royal Gold Bourbon Whiskey, which Foolish Things Bar and Biscuit is featuring in their take on a classic Horsefeathers cocktail:

In a Collins glass:

  • 1 ½ oz Royal Gold Whiskey
  • 4 oz housemade ginger beer
  • 4 dashes of angostura bitters
  • ¼ oz lemon juice
  • Garnish with lemon wheel

Finally, Two James is the first distillery in Detroit since Prohibition, and their Johnny Smoking Gun Whiskey is showing up on back bars all over Tulsa, including MixCo, Roosevelt’s, and Foolish Things. It’s a bartender favorite because of the smoky note it adds to a cocktail, the complexity from the three blended teas used in the process, and it’s a great story: Two guys are using locally sourced agricultural products to try to revitalize Detroit’s oldest neighborhood.

Roosevelt’s is using the Johnny Smoking Gun to add complexity to their take on a classic Manhattan, but Foolish Things went with the Grass Widow Whiskey to create the Two James Boulevard Cocktail. Owner Justin Carpenter adds the caveat to use good ice, because ice can dramatically alter the flavor of a cocktail:

In a coupe glass:

  • 2 oz Two James Grass Widow
  • ½ oz Campari
  • ¾ oz Barolo Chianti
  • Stir and garnish with orange twist

As for the good ice, Trevin Hoffman of Handcrafted-Dynamic Brands recommends trying the Peg Leg Porker at the Hotel Indigo bar because they use Vault Ice, an artisanal ice that doesn’t change the taste of booze. Peg Leg Porker eight-year is also available at Bull in the Alley—and no, you shouldn’t put it in a cocktail.

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