Now, here’s the not-too-surprising segue: my love of the humble potato extends towards those rare potato-based beverages, oh, like, vodka. I have always had a thing for potato vodka, which is strange since vodka is essentially water and alcohol, but potato vodka always had something extra, delivering more than those simple grain-based bottles could ever hope for.
I never realized why, assuming it had been my rather odd sentimental attachment to potatoes, but after spending just a while with the makers of Long Island Spirits’ LiV Vodka I think I’ve found out why.
Before the burnout though, Richard travelled the world, spending time in places such as Japan and Lexington, Kentucky. Places where distilling is an art, and one that became increasingly attractive. The more he learned, the hungrier he became for more. By the late 1990s, Richard had a full-time obsession with distilling.
It took some time to turn that obsession into a business plan, but by 2004 he was studying distilling for real, taking courses at Cornell University and workshops back down in Kentucky. Having spent time among the then-flourishing potato fields of Long Island, it became obvious to Richard what he had to do. Take potatoes and make vodka. Every boy’s dream, right?
OK, maybe not, but in Richard’s case it is a dream fulfilled. He founded Long Island Spirits in 2006, setting up an old barn, with 80 acres of potato fields in the back, as the base of operations. The plan was to produce vodka from those potatoes as well as all the White and Marcy Russets three other family farmers could produce. It was a bold plan, but it all came to fruition with the release of LiV Vodka.
Now, many of you out there will be thinking to yourselves that vodka is vodka, right? Well, yes and no. If the vodka is distilled over and over again, removing impurities while stripping the vodka of any character, well, then yes. One of the features that sets potato-based vodkas apart from grain-based vodkas is the fact that when potato mash is distilled, less methanol is produced.
It’s the purity of potato vodka that sets it apart, allowing it to be simply distilled so that it reaches the consumer not as some neutral blend of alcohol and water, but rather as a finely textured beverage with fresh, subtle aromatics. That purity also serves as a perfect base for Richard’s line of fruit-infused vodkas that he has branded as Sorbetta. Each flavor is derived entirely from fresh fruit: lemons, limes, oranges, strawberries, and raspberries.
Each sorbetta is flavored only with whole berries or zest, in the case of the citrus fruits, macerating for a month. The sorbetta is thus imbued with the clear flavor of each fruit, making it an excellent ingredient for your bar, and even better finish to your next dinner party.
Of course, the obvious question is: With the only distillery on Long Island since the 1880s opening smack in the middle of Long Island’s wine country, where is the grappa? Sono Rinata, an unaged brandy produced in partnership with Peconic Bay Winery, has been available for sale since earlier this year and, in the short time since my visit to Long Island Spirits, some six barrels of Chardonnay have been distilled for a second project. And that’s not including the secret experiment already in barrel!
Judging from the early results, Long Island Spirits is really on to something and we all wish Richard and his crew the best of luck!
Lime -- Almost floral on the nose, with a huge lime oil note that obscures the sweetness of the nose. This is spicy up front with an almost cinnamon tone that leads to a very gently sweet mid-palate, with bright lime notes that yield to a more spicy finish.
Orange -- Subtle on the nose with light orange notes but in a rather sweet and heavy register. On the palate this is simpler and a bit sweeter than the lime or lemon sorbetta, with a light jammy edge to the flavors.
Strawberry -- Intense on the nose with lightly toasty and almost jammy strawberry aromas. The aromas lead to a rather intensely flavored palate with much the same profile, lightly jammy, and yet here on the palate there is a nice contrasting note of seed bitterness adding real, lasting complexity.
Raspberry -- Delicate on the nose with a floral top note and faint, soft raspberry tones. Delicate and light in the mouth with fine, transparent fruit that is nicely balanced, gaining more perfume on the backend and finishing with good length to the raspberry and floral tones.