Alcohol is, of course, a legal drug—given certain usage constraints—and I’ve just had a smidge too much of it in the service of exploring the offerings put forth by New Mexico distillers.
There are three major distillers at work in New Mexico today. The oldest is the Don Quixote Distillery and Winery, located between Santa Fe and Española. Signature spirits at Don Quixote include vodka and “bourbon,” (bourbon comes from Kentucky, as far as I’m concerned), both based on blue corn. The emphasis on a beloved local ingredient compounds the value of producing local liquor, and blue corn proves to be just as capable of producing mouth-watering, eye-popping potency as its yellow cousin. I’m not a big fan of corn-based whiskey, but the blue corn bourbon is a silky pour, sitting as gracefully on the tongue as it does in a low-ball. No other regional distiller (that I’m aware of) produces gin made with New Mexico juniper (primarily because it’s so hard to source a non-poisonous juniper berry in these parts), so extra credit is due to Don Quixote for crafting complex spirits with foodshed savoir faire. Brandies are produced with copper alembic stills; the resulting flavor, as mentioned above, invites indulgence.
A couple of years ago, Santa Fe Spirits burst onto the scene with a “white dog” whiskey, Silver Coyote. A white whiskey is not aged and lacks the classic caramel coloring (and often the flavor) of a product that has spent a few years in a barrel. Silver Coyote isn’t for everyone—it’s relatively alarming to drink straight, but can be worked into a good many cocktails. However, it’s a good indicator that a thoughtful aged whiskey will be available soon. Santa Fe Spirits also produces a fantastic apple brandy, made with local apples, and is plotting the release of a single malt (think “Scotch”-style) whiskey, which uses a yet-to-be-revealed smoked malt “utilized by no other distillery in the world,” according to master distiller Colin Keegan. But the real success on the ground for Santa Fe Spirits has been the release of its Expedition brand American West Vodka. It’s a corn-based vodka with a mellow throat that competes with Vodka Viracocha, an offering from the newest distiller on the scene, KGB Spirits.
Operating out of Alcalde, KGB produces Taos Lightning—my favorite whiskey of the regional offerings—and one of the most sumptuous, spicy gins available on earth. More spry and inventive than the other distillers, KGB is working up an absinthe and several other surprises to be unveiled this year.
Distilling requires an exceptional amount of skill and patience, and New Mexico is just beginning to reap the rewards of the investment made by dedicated locals.
The future looks bright from here, but, as I said, I’m a little tipsy. SFR