As the holidays approach and parties proliferate, hosts and hostesses always appreciate a nice bottle of wine or liquor. But you don’t need to spend a fortune on a rare vintage wine or limited edition big-brand bottle of scotch or vodka to make an impression. The artisanal food movement—which has brought us great fresh food and farm-to-table restaurants—has inspired those who appreciate distilled spirits to delve into the production of hand crafted and, in many cases, locally made products.
Just ask Jeff Marron, co-owner of Saugatuck Grain + Grape, a unique wine and spirits shop across from the Westport train station. Having worked in the restaurant and beverage business for two decades, Jeff, along with partner Mimi McLaughlin, carved out a particular niche for their shop when it opened three years ago.
“No one was paying a lot of attention to the craft spirits market segment,” notes Marron, who saw the opportunity to make handcrafted, limited quantity products the centerpiece of the business. “Somebody had to learn it, and since it’s my passion, that’s what I did.”
Walk into the shop, which has a country store feel and one of the most diverse and sophisticated selections of wine and spirits you will find anywhere in FC, and your curiosity is piqued. Here are vodkas, gins, scotches, ryes, and bourbons that you may never have seen before. Surprisingly, prices are quite reasonable.
“Even though these liquors are made in very small batches and the distilleries produce limited quantities, price points are usually not high,” he notes. “These small distillers put a great deal of effort into their products, but since they don’t have huge promotion and advertising budgets, their prices are competitive with big name brands that do spend a lot on marketing.”
Marron points out some local and New England brands: Barr Hill gin and vodka, from a small distillery in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont; Cold River vodka, a gluten free product from Maine; and Comb 9 Gin, distilled just down the road in Port Chester, New York. You can actually visit the distillery.
Marron is an accomplished mixologist, and conducts classes along with liquor (and wine) tastings at the store.
“Gin is making a comeback; it hasn’t had its heyday yet. While some of the handcrafted bourbons are hard to get, gin is a versatile spirit, and distillers can make it any way they want." He offers the example of Russell Henry London Dry Gin, macerated with Malaysian limes; a prize-winning brand, it retails for just $40 for a fifth (750ml).
Here’s Jeff’s recipe for Bee’s Knees, made with gin and honey syrup:
- 2 oz Barr Hill Gin
- ¾ oz Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
- ¾ oz Orange Blossom Honey Syrup* 1:1
- Add ingredients to a cocktail shaker
- Add ice to Shaker
- Shake until well chilled
- Fine strain into chilled cocktail coupe
- No Garnish
*To make the honey syrup, add equal parts Orange Blossom Honey and warm water to a jar or mixing glass. Stir until well blended (about 30 seconds). Refrigerate up to two weeks.