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Create the ultimate loca-pour bar cart with East End spirits

Those familiar with Long Island wines know about terroir. The French term refers to the combination of soil and climate that infuses grapes with distinct characteristics and distinguish them from those grown anywhere else in the world. But wine’s territorial claim has some — friendly — competition. 

For the past decade, the East End has been busy producing spirits and liqueurs that share its distinctive terroir, sourced from local grains, grapes and botanicals to create something unique to the East End. Today, you can fill a bar cart with locally sourced bottles that give everything from single malts to Manhattans to gin and tonics a more local flavor.

Back in 2012, New York State allowed farm-based alcohols to be distilled, bottled and sold all in one facility, and distilleries have since sprouted up like summer corn on both forks. Some, like Wölffer and Sparkling Pointe, are making spirits from wine grapes they’re already growing. Others, like Matchbook Distilling, focus on grain-based drinks and other ingredients they buy locally, like co-owner Leslie Merinoff Kwasnieski’s sunchoke tubers that she patiently roasts over an open fire in Greenport to tease out flavors similar to mezcal. Or stalwarts like Sagaponack Farm Distillery, which convert its crops into spirits as another revenue stream. At any point in the year, you can find Sagaponack distiller Matt Beamer and his sixth-generation sibling farmer partners, Marilee and Dean Foster, harvesting thousands of pounds of potatoes, heirloom corn and stalks of rhubarb from their 200-acre farm on the South Fork. 

This focus on spirits is a rerun of sorts for Long Island. During Prohibition, the South Shore was a smuggler’s dream for funneling alcohol into New York City. Claudio’s in Greenport started as a billiard hall in 1870 before the family opened a French restaurant with a secret bar that received liquor from Prohibition era baymen who made back-and-forth runs between the South Shore and ships anchored three miles off the island.

While it’s no longer a felony to produce a stiff drink on the island, local spirits still carry an air of excitement to them. Here, we’ve rounded up a dozen different flavors to stock your bar cart, each with a local story.

The loca-pours

Photo credit: Doug Young

The Better Man Distilling Co. Grand Optimist Rye Whiskey, Batch 002 Distiller’s Cut

Western New York yields the Danko rye that distiller Peter Cornille uses for this whiskey because the heritage grain, favored by bakers, packs nutty, smoky, peppery notes with less spice. With nearly 80% of the mash bill made of rye, the sweetness comes from the malted barley in a balanced flavor with some melon, dry cherry and almond while the phenolic experience is akin to baking spices like cinnamon and clove.

How to use it: Substitute into any bourbon-based cocktail or sip it neat. $56;

Long Island Spirits Field & Sound Bottled in Bond American Single Malt

Long Island Spirits uses malted barley grown upstate and combines it with locally grown winter rye before fermenting it at their Baiting Hollow-based distillery. From that point, the spirit is left to mature in charred oak barrels for at least four years. The whiskey has what founder Richard Stabile calls an almost IPA-like finish that includes salinity from the air near the Sound. “When people hear single malt, they always think Scotch,” he says. “Ours has a different flavor profile, and people who enjoy craft beer are blown away because they’ll get those notes in a concentrated fashion.”

How to use it: Neat or as a floater on a cocktail like a Penicillin. $52;

Matchbook Distilling Kite Crash Amaro

Like classic amari, Kite Crash is bitter with a sweet finish. But what separates this local version is what Merinoff Kwasnieski might describe as a farmers market haul of add-ins — from cardamom to elderflower chicory root — that macerate for two weeks developing in oak barrels for three years. If sipping it neat isn’t your style, try Kite Crash cocktails that could use some complex bitter notes.

How to use it: In a black Manhattan or negroni. $31;

Sagaponack Farm Distillery Straight Bourbon

While the yield isn’t as generous as the GMO corn larger distillers might use, Sagaponack’s heritage Silvermine variety is exactly what Beamer wanted for a drinkable bourbon without the heat. The Silvermine is sweeter and the addition of both malted barley and rye, along with four years of aging, chips away at the corn’s heat even more.

How to use it: Neat, or in simple cocktails like an Old Fashioned or Boulevardier. $71;

Montauk Distilling Bellamy Spiced Rum

In the middle of Riverhead, Wayne Drexel puts the finishing touches on rum shipped to him from the Virgin Islands — a Caribbean-to-New York connection that dates back to 1664, when rum distilling started on Staten Island. Drexel’s spicing process includes adding the classic flavors you expect in a Caribbean rum: notes of clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and citrus.

How to use it: Not designed for sipping, mix it into any rum-based cocktail. $20;

Sparkling Pointe XO Excellence Brandy

Most of the vines at Sparkling Pointe yield the pinot noir and pinot meunier, along with the chardonnay, that winemaker Gilles Martin uses to make sparkling wines, but he turns some of these grapes into brandy. Matured in French white oak barrels, the brandy mellows for a luxurious six years, developing complex flavors like vanilla, caramel and butterscotch.

Try it: neat or in a Champagne cocktail. $55;

Matchbook Distilling Bugle Juice

With piles of fresh ginger, Merinoff Kwasnieski was on her way to making beer when she discovered her license wouldn’t allow it. The pivot: Mix the ginger beer with a barrel of whiskey, then sweeten it with a blood orange liqueur Matchbook already made. “So I wound up with this nice bottled Old Fashioned with blood orange and ginger that is ready to drink,” she says. And the graphic on the bottle? It’s a nod to her husband’s hobby of bugling to attract elk on hunting trips in New Mexico.

How to use it: Over ice. $13;

VerVino Vermouth Variation 1

This fortified, aromatized sauvignon blanc pulls in 30 different botanicals, including artisanal honey from Sag Harbor, along with grape brandy. The result is a dry, potent vermouth with hints of baking spice and florals.

Try it: Over ice, mixed into a spritz or in a cocktail like a Martinez or Manhattan. $29;

Sagaponack Farm Distillery Rhubarb Liqueur

With a background in beer brewing, Beamer wondered if he could turn Marilee Foster’s rhubarb patch into something flavorful — and the result is a fine grown-up lemonade for a hot summer day. Starting
with a neutral wheat vodka, he adds the vegetable’s hallmark tartness, sweetened with orange peels and local honey. The rhubarb flavor comes through without the tartness that collapses the back of your cheeks, he says.

How to use it: Over ice, as a tart substitute for grenadine or in place of orange bitters in traditional cocktails. $83;

Sagaponack Farm Distillery Potato Vodka

Using the katahdin potatoes grown on the Foster farm, distiller Beamer uses about 25 pounds of spuds to make a bottle of this Polish-style vodka. Earthier than ordinary vodkas, and velvety, Beamer distills the spirit three times, stripping away the harshness until he leaves just enough flavor. “We want to make sure people understand that what they’re drinking is from a little bit of a different ingredient,” he says. 

How to use it: Neat to appreciate the texture and flavor, or added into a classic martini. $36;

Wölffer Estate Vineyard Gin

Unlike most grain-based gins, Wölffer’s winemaker Roman Roth uses his own riesling and seyval from the Finger Lakes region for a local version with a fragrant aroma and a milder flavor. Along with the hand-picked juniper berries grown on the East End, which come through in the dry gin, you’ll also taste fennel, ginger and lime zest.

Try it: In a gin and tonic, dry martini or gin fizz with club soda. $50;

Matchbook Distilling Late Embers Sunchoke and Honey

To invoke the smokiness of mezcal, Merinoff Kwasnieski smokes sunchoke, instead of agave pinas, over hardwoods near the distillery. Sunchokes contain inulin, a complex carbohydrate that yeast needs help to break down, so she gives things a jump start by steaming and then roasting them, which kicks off the fermentation process. The result is a clear, earthy spirit with notes of smoke and black pepper.

How to use it: In any drink that calls for a funky Jamaican rum or mezcal, such as daiquiris and margaritas. $60;

the set up

TouchGoods Arcade Bar Cart $750; (Photo credit: Doug Young)

A bar cart is a fun bit of utilitarian furniture that, when not in use during a party, can look like a cluttered eyesore. But the sculptural Arcade Bar Cart from Toronto-based Gus is striking enough to draw attention in a good way, even if it was empty — maybe hosting a potted plant. The shapely metal and ash plywood cart’s Art Deco design encourages guests to walk up and interact with it, which is why TouchGoods owner Norine Pennacchia stocks at her Southold store. “The Gus is definitely a popular item because people love its sleek design and practicality,” she says. “It’s an excellent fit for our store.” Pennacchia opened her colorful, eclectic emporium to modern design in 2015 and expanded to the space next door in 2022, which previously housed a kitchen cookware shop. TouchGoods is colorful and modern, offering a mix of design-forward products, from glassware to cooking tools and tabletop accents, to end tables and other furniture that can fit into just about any interior design plan. 

What’s a bar cart without cocktail accoutrements? Pennacchia recommends these souped-up sipping companions for your home bar: 

Guzzini “Tiffany Collection” BPA-free acrylic tray, $38
Fortessa “Gloria” martini glass, hand painted in 24k gold, $15.99
Houdini by Rabbit iridescent 18 oz. cocktail shaker, $21.99
Fortessa 18/10 stainless steel hammered ice tongs, $24.99
Caspari BPA-free acrylic 60 oz. ice bucket, $75
Schott Sweisel “Charles Schumann” tritan lead-free crystal 12 oz. whiskey glass, $13.95
Hawkins New York borosilicate glass “Essential Pitcher” in amber, $28
Caspari North Fork cocktail napkins, custom created for TouchGoods (all towns available), $21

The Martini: Perfection in a Glass by Matt Hranek, Workman Publishing, $17

The Negroni: A Love Affair with a Classic Cocktail by Matt Hranek, Workman Publishing, $17

Just a Spritz: 57 Simple Sparkling Sips by Danielle Centoni, Artisan, $18 

A Field Guide to Whiskey: An Expert Compendium to Take Your Passion and Knowledge to the Next Level by Hans Offringa, Artisan, $25