February 26, 2022
We had a plan. The young members of our group (see my blog about Jamesport Farm Brewery) would enjoy ice skating on the rink in Greenport, while three of the adults would make the short trek to Matchbook Distilling Company. The best laid plans…the rink was closed! But the blacksmith shop was open, plus hot chocolate at Aldo’s and several rounds on the carousel (where the youngest caught the brass ring for the first time), kept them occupied while, indeed, we three meandered through the back streets of a residential neighborhood until we came to an unassuming, low-slung warehouse building. Inside was a fascinating and unexpected scene, one to which we hope to return.
Matchbook Distilling makes liquors and liqueurs—which is sort of like saying Disney makes rides. And what a ride we had! In the sleek tasting room, we sat in high chairs at a bar and perused the three tasting flights on offer. Categorized as Bright, Bold, and Punchy, each included tastes of three products. The Punchy was $20, and the Bold $25. Though the pour may seem small to those used to beer and wine flights, remember the higher alcohol content of these drinks. It was plenty, and even allowed the three of us to taste all six of the samples we got—plus a seventh in response to our enthusiasm.
My usual tasting buddy and I opted for the Bold flight—out of which I bought bottles of two of our sippers—and the third member of our crew got the Punchy one. He, by the way, had actually been to Matchbook before, when he participated in the Gin Experience, in which you get to create your own unique gin by combining the many ingredients on offer, an experience he thoroughly enjoyed. You have to make a reservation to do that, and, until recently, you also needed a reservation to do a tasting, which is partly why we hadn’t been there before. However, it seems that on a Saturday afternoon they will take walk-ins. I would call or email to check on that.
As we were finishing our tasting, we were invited to accompany a group setting out on a tour of the facilities, which they do at regular intervals on the weekend. The tour only takes about fifteen minutes, and is very impressive. Our guide led us through some doors at the far end of the tasting room, and we entered a cavernous warehouse facility, filled with gleaming machines, wooden barrels, and huge bags of grains and other ingredients. For example, we saw large vats filled with halved blood oranges, for their blood orange liqueur. They process 8,000 pounds of blood oranges to make 6,000 bottles, we were told.
Back in the tasting room, we saw a list of snacks, though we didn’t need any, and also of cocktails on offer.
I learned all sorts of random bits of distilling lore, including that they use something called a dunder pit to make some of their rum, which is an open pit in the manner of Jamaican rum producers. Basically, it is analogous to the everlasting stocks some cooks will make, with some of a previous batch added to each next batch, leading to deep and complex flavors. Matchbook’s dunder pit is already three years old. They also make a point of using organic and local ingredients as much as possible.
Like Channing Daughters, my favorite winery for all its experimentation with new flavors and combinations, Matchbook calls themselves an R+D distillery, in that they are constantly trying new things. I guess I’ll have to go back.
In no particular order, these are the drinks we tried:
- Flatlander Aleppo Pepper $63
Described on their website as “New York Corn Whiskey with Aleppo Peppers, aged in a Red Wine Cask,” this looks like any whiskey, but has a taste all its own. It smells of allspice and pepper and smoke, elements that are also in the taste. “It has a kick,” sagely observes my tasting buddy. I could see sipping this neat, or with just a drop or two of water.
- Mad King Hopped Apple Brandy $53
I find the aroma of this somewhat medicinal, and the taste as well, but our friend likes it.
- Wall Flower $35
This is a dunder rum, made partially with the product of the dunder pit. It has a lovely flowery aroma, and would be wonderful in a daquiri.
- Ritual Sister $68
Have you ever had a liquor distilled from pineapple? No, neither had I. Our server described how, over at the Lin Beach House (where a group of the Matchbook people live) they made a fire in a pit and roasted pineapples for three days, partly as Covid lockdown distraction. The result in an almost too-easy-to-drink tipple, with smoky and fruity tastes.
- Late Embers Sunchoke + Honey $60
I really like mezcal, so I was intrigued to try this version made with sunchokes. I’ve had sunchokes, a tuber with a crisp texture somewhat like a water chestnut. Well, apparently it has the same “chains of fructose molecules, called inulin” as agave, according to the Matchbook website, and has the advantage of growing like a weed in the Northeast. They use their firepit for this as well, and smoke and steam the sunchokes. It smells like a mezcal, and tastes like one, too. I buy a bottle. It is smoky and fruity and delicious, and that evening our friend combines it with reposado tequila, Grand Marnier, freshly squeezed lemon, lime, and orange juice, and a bit of agave syrup to make transcendental margaritas, which we have with seviche made with local bay scallops we pick up at Braun’s on our way home. (Then for dinner we have tuna steaks and Channing Daughters rosé, with Nofodoco doughnuts for dessert. Not too shabby.)
- Metamodernity Bourbon $78
LIV makes a bourbon, but I like this one better. It’s made with corn, wheat, barley, and oats, and has some of the sweetness you expect in a bourbon, but also more flavor than most. It actually smells to me like a corn muffin! I buy a bottle of this, too, and find it makes a perfect night-cap, with just a touch of water and one ice cube.
- Bling Nova Wheat Vodka $37
Because I got into a gin vs. vodka discussion with one of the people behind the bar, he suggests that I try their vodka, which he notes has more flavor than most. He’s right. It has a subtle taste of grains. If you’re looking to boycott Russian vodkas, you might try a bottle of this.
Reasons to visit: you like hard liquor and are open to trying new versions of old favorites; they are like a bunch of brilliant mad scientists, trying all sorts of unusual ingredients and methods; you’d like a tour of a distillery; you want to try your hand at blending your own gin; you want to try something new, not a winery or brewery or cidery; you’re on vacation in Greenport and want to do a tasting in walking distance of downtown.