New potato vodka goes LiV

William Dowd photo

When I moved as a kid to New York's fabled 118-mile Long Island, I felt a little bit guilty.

The housing development into which we moved was part of the post-World War II housing boom that sent streams of people east from New York City and in from other states as well as from war-ravaged European countries in search of affordable housing from the late 1940s well into the early '60s.

The fresh start for us and so many other people was wonderful. The touch of guilt came from a kid from a small Pennsylvania farm-country town who quickly realized we were gobbling up fertile farm land as our parents planted lawns and rose gardens in the hope of personalizing their own little cookie-cutter plot of land.

Our particular development wiped out a bloc of farms that specialized in potatoes. Those famous Long Island potatoes. Luckily, the spuds survived the boom and now prosper mostly on the North Fork and South Fork, the still-agricultural far eastern points of the fish-shaped island now known mostly for its wine regions as well as its moneyed Hamptons.

While the wineries and the celebrities get most of the fast-crowd press, a startup company called Long Island Spirits is clamoring for notice with a truly homegrown product.

LiV -- rhymes with "5" -- is a super-premium vodka ($38) made from Long Island potatoes, distilled and bottled at Long Island Spirits' facility, a retrofitted barn set on an 80-acre potato farm in Baiting Hollow in the North Fork wine country.

Not that LiV doesn't have plenty of influences from beyond its home territory. While the vodka itself is 100% local potatoes -- which immediately puts it into the super-premium category, as well as the gluten-free category an increasing number of consumers look for -- it also is impacted by (1.) German stills, (2.) tamper-proof tin wrapping caps from Portugal, (3.) a brushed aluminum-topped Italian cork, (4.) a bottle made of French glass with painted labels, and (5.) branded, custom wooden shipping cases made of Western pine.

Co-founders Richard Stabile and Dan Pollicino have said they crushed more than 150,000 pounds of potatoes for the initial release crafted in custom-made, twin 650-liter copper stills. The first year's production will be limited to 5,000 to 8,000 bottles.

Since the much-lamented (at least by me) Peconika company that used Long Island potatoes but was distilled in New Jersey shut down its short-lived operation in 2005, only Hamptons brand vodka has been made with local materials. It uses 20% local potatoes, but is distilled in the Midwest. That leaves LiV as the only truly Long Island spirit.

(Go here and here for earlier stories. Go here for my tasting notes on LiV.)

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