Whiskey is no longer just your grandparents drink.
Today it’s a mainstream liquor that millennials, in particular, seem to have embraced. This craft spirit renaissance is being celebrated at the fourth annual Winter Bourbon Festival at T.J. Finley’s Public House in Bay Shore on Feb. 25.
“The festival is for people to discover and learn about whiskey,” says host Drew Dvorkin, co-owner of T.J. Finley’s Public House. “Here they can try different styles, talk with the distributors about their products and figure out what they like.”
HOW IT WORKS
Guests can sample their choice of 45 whiskeys ( 1⁄2-ounce sips) and 20 craft beers (2-ounce pours) in the indoor bar and heated outdoor tents. Admission includes a pulled pork or chicken sandwich, or smoked sausage with homemade coleslaw. A VIP ticket allows for early admission and samples of rare whiskey.
POPULARITY ON THE RISE
But how did whiskey come out from the back row of the liquor rack into the spotlight?
“Bartenders have made it more approachable,” says Sean Brown, district manager at Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, who will be serving Larceny and Clyde May’s bourbons at the festival. “If someone orders a Jack Daniel’s, they might turn them on to an alternative brand by suggesting, ‘Why don’t you try this instead?’ Plus, they’ve made whiskey more mixable in cocktails.”
Dvorkin feels whiskey’s rebooted popularity stems from pop culture — such as TV’s “Mad Men.”
“The hipsters started going out and drinking like old men,” Dvorkin says. “It causes people to drink slower, therefore you start looking for quality.”
Whiskey fans tend to seek out boutique labels that release limited batches.
Zach Adams of Blueprint Spirits specializes in small distillers that offer ground-to-glass organic craft liquors like OYO’s Soft Red Winter Wheat Whiskey, which is aged in Oloroso sherry barrels from France, giving off a burnt-caramel flavor with notes of sherry and fennel.
“Some of these whiskeys can go for $17 a glass at a restaurant,” says Adams, who will be serving high-end whiskeys like Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon. “This festival gives people an opportunity to taste without feeling the pressure of investing a large amount of money toward something they are not certain about.”
Darren O’Hagan of New York Wine & Spirits will be pouring samples of locally distilled whiskey such as Oak & Apple Wood Aged Rye Mash from Widow Jane in Brooklyn, which contains sweet and spicy flavorings.
“People are trading up, just like they did with craft beer,” says O’Hagan. “Small distilleries are fun because each barrel is different from the next, which makes it unique.”
Even craft beer brewers are getting in on the whiskey trend. Long Ireland Beer Co. of Riverhead will be serving its Barrel-Aged Chocolate Porter, which has a whiskey twist to it.
“We put the beer in fresh whiskey barrels and let it sit for a year,” says Greg Martin, the brewery’s co-owner. “Every barrel is kind of like its own ecosphere. They all can impart different flavors, notes and aromas like wood, whiskey and vanilla.”
Whiskey is not limited to beverages. It’s also infused into cigars, which will be sold at the festival near a designated smoking tent.
“We make our own homemade Jack Daniel’s cigars. The tobacco leaves and the wrapper are marinated in the whiskey for three weeks, then get hand rolled,” says Miguel Baez, owner of Village Cigar Headquarters of Patchogue and Babylon. “Whiskey and cigars strike the perfect balance. It’s a nice after-dinner treat.”
WINTER BOURBON FESTIVAL
WHEN | WHERE: 4-7 p.m. (VIP starts at 3 p.m.), Saturday, Feb. 25, T.J. Finley’s Public House, 42 E. Main St., Bay Shore
INFO: 631-647-4856, winterbourbonfestival.com
ADMISSION: $50 (VIP $75, sold out), $12 designated driver; 21 and older