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Winter Bourbon Festival draws 200 to Bay Shore

A server uncaps a popular brand at the

A server uncaps a popular brand at the Winter Bourbon Festival in Bay Shore on Feb. 23, 2019. Credit: Howard Simmons

The peach-flavored whiskey was a big hit Saturday at the Winter Bourbon Festival in Bay Shore. But those on hand had plenty of other choices, too.

About 40 purveyors of bourbon and other whiskeys offered samplings to about 200 Long Islanders at the outdoor event. The more seasoned bourbon drinkers got a taste of new spirits, and novices were introduced to brands and flavors they might like.

Festivalgoers gathered with friends in the back parking lot of T.J. Finley's Public House and sipped Jack Daniel's, Jameson Irish Whiskey, Widow Jane and more. 

As they sipped, T.J. Finley's co-owner Drew Dvorkin watched the crowd and reflected on the six years he has hosted the event. "When we first started this, whiskey was just starting to emerge again," Dvorkin said. "Now, whiskey is full-on mainstream."

Dvorkin said there was a time in the early 2000s when the popular drink was flavored vodka, but whiskey is making a comeback. Dvorkin's statement is supported by industry data.

American spirits sales, which include whiskey but not vodka, reached a record $27.5 billion in 2018, marking the ninth straight year of record sales, according to the Distilled Spirits Council. Suppliers sold 231 million cases last year, an increase of 5 million cases from 2017. 

“The spirits sector is benefiting from millennials who demand diverse and authentic experiences, and desire innovative and higher-end products,” the council's CEO Chris Swonger said in a statement. 

Dvorkin said he has kept the festival at around 200 people every year because that keeps it lively yet intimate enough for customers to chat with whiskey producers during samplings. "Hopefully they'll walk away with a new favorite so next time they go to a bar, they'll order something brand-specific," Dvorkin said. 

Tickets were $95 and sold in advance. The samplings, and unlimited food and water, were included. 

Most of Saturday's purveyors came from across the nation, but one of the local whiskey producers was Montauk-based Montauk Hard Label. The 5-year-old company brought its blueberry, peach, and black-cherry flavored whiskeys. Paull Daino, the company's brand ambassador, said the event helped them gain exposure. 

Daino said "people are really responding positively" to the flavored whiskeys. 

"I had all the Montauks," said Kandy Stallsworth of North Babylon. "The peach was the best; it was like a Snapple Iced Tea." 

Stallsworth said the first time she tried the peach whiskey was at Saturday's event.

Vincent Mastrocco of North Babylon also tried the peach whiskey and said it was pretty good, even though his preference is Basil Hayden's-brand Dark Rye. "I'm definitely going to buy a bottle of that," he said. 

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