This summer, Frank Ferraro and John Nicoletti of Tellers: An American Chophouse in Islip traveled north to the bucolic home of WhistlePig Rye Whiskey in Shoreham, Vermont. There, in a converted barn, they took up a three-day-long task: Taste through samples drawn from a few barrels — barrels that once aged Madeira, port and Sauternes, but now held 12-year-old rye whiskey — and cull from each to create a private-label blend for the restaurant.
“Over the last three years we’ve increased our visibility as a whiskey destination,” said Frank Ferraro, Tellers’ general manager (Nicoletti is head bartender). The steakhouse, housed in a former bank, keeps 100-plus whiskeys behind the bar. “This was just the next logical step.”
As drinkers become more informed and willing to pay for premium experiences — and restaurants are game to tailor those experiences — private-label and blended-to-order (bespoke) spirits are trending. Large distilleries such as Johnnie Walker or Jack Daniel’s have established bespoke programs, and a growing crop of microdistilleries has taken up the mantle, too; Matchbook Distilling Company, which opened in Greenport earlier this year, works with restaurants, bars and farms to co-create bespoke spirits that can be served or sold.
Frank Antonetti, owner of The Rust & Gold in Huntington, traveled to Casa Herradura in Jalisco, Mexico earlier this year to create a bespoke tequila for his bar, a blend he chose from two barrels of reposado (gently aged) tequila sampled alongside Herradura’s master taster.
“The first barrel was smooth with strong notes of vanilla and cooked pineapple, and the second barrel had cardamom and cinnamon notes,” Antonetti said. “I thought those two would marry for a big, bold flavor.”
Twenty cases of the custom-blended tequila arrived last week, and a launch party is set for October 5. “We’ll use [the tequila] as the proprietary spirit for our tequila cocktail, which is our biggest seller,” Antonetti said. (That drink combines tequila, pineapple, lime, cucumber, basil and agave).
Meanwhile, several dozen bottles of Tellers’ private-label whiskey arrived in late September, and it’s slightly rounder, deeper and smoother than WhistlePig’s standard 12-year-old rye. It costs $29 a pour.
Tellers: An American Chophouse is at 605 Main St., Islip; 631-277-7070, tellerschophouse.com
The Rust & Gold is at 70 Gerard St., Huntington; 631-629-4431, therustandgold.com.