An Open Letter to my Loved Ones

by Simon Lee on August 04, 2016

I completely understand your concerns that I am “too into my drinking”; after all alcohol is widely considered a vice, and consumed regularly in large quantities is certainly bad for your health. As a former bartender, I certainly do not encourage anyone to imbibe in excess, ever. Getting too drunk is not fun for anyone and can be very dangerous. There are people I know personally and professionally who have damaged both their lives and the lives of others with drinking too often or too much. I actively discourage everyone from ever drinking and driving: it is never a good idea.

I do have a drinking problem, but it’s neither due to excessive quantities of spirit, nor a daily habit. My drinking problem is that there are too many unique and delicious spirits that I want to smell, sip and savor. There are simply more products than I could possibly taste, let alone consume and enjoy. With the array of spirits available today I could easily resign myself to drinking nothing but gin and never be bored of the variety. But as a fan of everything distilled, I cannot imagine ignoring the bounty of all that is produced, mostly from products grown right here in New York.

We are at the most exciting moment of American distillation since Prohibition, if not ever. Never before have so many independent distilleries been opening from such a diverse group of distillers drawing on global influences using products grown locally. With the technological innovations of the past century and loosening of regulation, the new distilleries are making more exciting products than have ever been seen before, and New York is leading the way nationwide.

While Europe has its traditions and culture that have been passed down through the generations, in America we are trying anything, everything and still other things. There are hard and fast rules about a lot of spirits in the world: bourbon has to be made from at least 51% corn; vodka has to be distilled to 95% ABV before proofing; and tequila can only be made in Mexico. But there are a lot of traditions and customs that can be completely bucked in distillation, leaving room for new fresh and experimental products. Some of these products don’t fit neatly into the category of liquor you might be used to consuming, but we will try out best to make these approachable for you.

Now in New York State we have rosemary flavored rum, heritage method Puerto Rican moonshine, buckwheat “whiskey”, and spirits flavored with plants that only grow in New York State. Many distillers talk about the terroir in their spirits, a term traditionally applied to wine: whether it’s apples from established orchards or locally grown grain, still other distillers forage for some of their own botanicals. One thing is clear, there are tastes being distilled in New York that you cannot find anywhere else. What’s next? I hope you’re as excited as I am to find out because it’s sure to be exciting.

Dear loved ones, I implore you to resist the urge to worry about the vast array of distillates I will be sampling in the upcoming months and years. Do not mistake my enthusiasm for obsession or alcoholism, I am fanatical only in my support of this burgeoning industry. I promise to be responsible and if I find myself enjoying a spirit more than I ever thought possible (has happened) I will take a taxi home and pick up my car the next day (also has happened), it will always be worth it.

To everyone else with similar concerns as my loved ones I implore you to consume responsibly but keep an open mind about where your spirits were distilled, how they were distilled, from what products they were distilled and perhaps most importantly, who distilled them. I am sure the historians will point to this time as the inflection point, when craft spirits took a foothold in our lives and never looked back. The people crafting these wonderful spirits are artists and sometimes to appreciate great art you need to sacrifice a little sobriety.

by Simon Thomas Lee


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