Before we say goodbye to this fair city, we have one final stop. At the recommendation of our pals at Whiskey Disks, we head out with bellies full of Duckfat to New England Distilling, intent on cleansing the palate and lifting our spirits.
Conveniently spelling out the name of its founder, NED is a jewel amidst the burgeoning craft distilling scene. It is also the first distillery Portland has seen in years, with rum and gin already in production, and rye whiskey to debut this fall. Founder Ned Wight is a veteran of Allagash Brewing Co—arguably the craft brewing industry’s most famed success story—so he brings to bear an intense appreciation for the local landscape. (Allagash, after all, is just a half mile up the street.)
Drawing on its impressive heritage, NED’s arrival on the scene is fresh. Its history, however, is over a century in the making.
AN EVENING AT NEW ENGLAND DISTILLING. PORTLAND, MAINE.
The story goes like this: Ned’s ancestors made whiskey for about 100 years in Maryland until selling their distillery just over 50 years ago. Ned’s great-great-great grandfather whetted appetites when he opened Sherwood Rye Whiskey in the 1850s north of Baltimore, Maryland. The operation was a runaway success.
Prohibition forced them to shutter their doors, but when the family finally resumed operations, locals no longer had a taste for Maryland rye whiskey. Now Ned has revived the legacy.
Ned quickly brings us up to speed in the modern era. When we show up at his doorstep, he drops everything he’s doing to show us the lay of the land. Ned has outfitted the distillery from the bottom up into a state-of-the-art facility, and his generous spirit permeates the entire space. For this reason, people are drawn to Ned, and he gives tours on the regular despite the small size of his operation.
Here, Jen climbs up on the fermenter. This is where the grain or molasses are fermented out to create the alcohol and flavor compound that they’ll then distill out.
This beauty is a 250-gallon copper still head, custom-made in Portugal. It is here that the alcohol vapor passes out of the pot on the way to the condenser—where, upon arrival, it is returned to a liquid state.
Ever heard of “boutique booze”? Well, folks, this is it. Here’s a sample of young whiskey being pulled from the barrel. Just a few more months to go, little guy!
We’re only 20 minutes in, and already Ned has us swooning.
We’re not alone. Artisanal distilling is expected to follow a similar trajectory to that of craft brewing, with an emphasis on locally-sourced grain. Imparting a genuine flavor of the place it’s made has always been an advantage craft brewers and distillers have over big players in the mainstream. The appeal is undeniable.
Coming of age. Maturing whiskey sits alongside “new make whiskey” (brand new off the still). In our humble opinion, it’s setting a great example:
New England Distilling is an anomaly of the best sort. Not only is it exceedingly difficult to secure the necessary permits, but unlike home-brewing, bootlegging is illegal, so many of those experimenting with craft spirits are unable reveal the fruits of their labor. Entrepreneurs are also deterred by the aging process spirits must undergo.
We are all very lucky for Ned’s patience.
Coming soon to liquor store near you (if you live in New York):
…Or to your very own liquor cabinet.
We heed our own advice and take one of these for the road (empty, of course). Philadelphia, we’re yours in 6.5 hours. New England, we’ll be back before you know it. You have treated us well.
Words. Jennifer Green
Images. Lendl Tellington
Ambience. New England Distilling | 26 Evergreen Drive, Unit B, Portland, ME 04103 | firstname.lastname@example.org | 207-878-WSKY (207-878-9759)