Legend has it that Simeon Turley’s mill, in Arroyo Hondo near Taos, did great business in the 1840s selling a wheat-based whiskey to travelers, soldiers and wandering mountain men.
John David Albert, one of those mountain men, worked at the mill at a time when hundreds of Mexicans and Native Americans united against the US government in the Taos Revolt. During the rebellion, the mill burned and Albert escaped on foot in the darkness and walked north toward Pueblo, Colo., in cold, hard weather. He was one of few survivors.
Whether Albert slipped into the night with a flask of whiskey nestled next to his powder bag, we’ll never know, just as we never know whether he and the other mountain men really called Turley’s whiskey Taos Lightning.
But now, thanks to KGB Spirits in Alcalde, everyone has access to “John David Alpert’s Taos Lightning Whiskey.”
KGB is a New Mexico-based craft distiller, creating small, hand-marked batches of gin, vodka, whiskey and, I expect, lots of other things.
The gin, dubbed Los Luceros Hacienda Gin, is an elegant, floral drink that plays across the tongue as music, striking taste buds like chords and plucking at olfactory strings like a fast-fingered lutist.
I’ve never been man enough to drink gin straight—I like it with tonic or in a proper, classic martini—but Hacienda is so compelling that I don’t want to dilute its flavor with mixers. Of course, its juniper presence is strong enough to tolerate some dilution, and it makes a particularly fine martini.
Vodka Viracocha is a potato vodka named for the Incan creator who could command little things like, you know, the sun, sky and ocean. Moving heaven and earth might be a tall order for a vodka, but KGB has taken a good whack with this offering; it’s exceedingly smooth on the tongue, with a richness and body uncommon in lesser vodkas.
I don’t know if the Incan god can prevent the Mayan apocalypse, but spitting some Viracocha fire this New Year’s Eve might be a good idea. On the other hand, I’ve heard that the Incans handed over the gold to the smelly white Europeans because the Spanish conquistadors’ pale skin mirrored the Incan concept of Viracocha.
White liquors distill relatively quickly, while proper whiskeys require aging, so one shouldn’t have high hopes for a young distillery’s whiskey. But KGB has been quietly ramping up for years, and its three-year-old rye is astonishingly good.
On the nose, it presents a fast whip of caramel and candy that fades into supple, worked leather. In the mouth, Taos Lightning isn’t as robust as some older whiskeys, but it’s plenty spry and it holds its own with notes of apple and wood and a long, even grassy finish.
All of this adds up to an unprecedented situation and one worthy of a great deal of celebration: New Mexico has a homegrown whiskey…and it’s good, really good. Another local company, Santa Fe Spirits, may soon have some aged whiskeys on the shelf, as well, but KGB’s Taos Lightning is going to be the glaze on my brain for the Thanksgiving holiday.
There’s no better excuse for consuming too much whiskey than being stuck in one place for hours and hours, surrounded by heavy foods.
Road 41, Alcalde
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