Now that it’s officially autumn, it’s become almost impossible not to stumble across some pumpkin-spiced monstrosity or other: pumpkin spice doughnuts, pumpkin spice coffee, pumpkin spice toothpaste, probably. Perhaps one of the last products you’d expect to be pumpkin spiced, however, is a whiskey, particularly one from a small, local distillery. But South Kingstown, R.I.’s Sons of Liberty have been pushing the envelope when it comes to whiskeys since it launched about four years ago.
Mike Reppucci founded the distillery with Dave Pickerell, a former Maker’s Mark master distiller, after a few years of drinking single malts in London while in business school. “I wondered why there was no great American single malt,” he explains. “I always dug bourbon, but I didn’t love it.”
Their first offering was Uprising Whiskey, which has been available in the Boston market for some time now. A barely aged whiskey, with light pepper and varied fruit notes, it’s a fine option for drinkers looking to branch out into more locally produced spirits. Like most whiskey, it’s essentially beer that’s been distilled (without the hops), Reppucci explained. In this case, it’s distilled from a stout.
“I always wondered why there was no seasonal contextuality with whiskey [as there is with beer],” he said.
That’s where the idea came from for last year’s launch of Pumpkin Spice Whiskey, now returning to the market. This year, a second seasonal, a hop-flavored summer whiskey, is available as well. The latter began its life as an IPA, was aged, then hopped, and results in a citrusy, bright sip.
“We’re really proud of that one; we felt like it was in balance, and wasn’t smacking you in the face with the hops,” he says. “It’s almost like a genever, but with no juniper berries. The idea was a lighter whiskey, to have the feeling of a summer citrus beer.”
He recommends trying it with tonic. “That hop and tonic is sick,” he says. “It acts like a barrel-aged gin, adds a great note with citrus on it.” Otherwise, you might try it in a Boulevardier-style setup — with Carpano, Campari or Aperol, as he takes it.
It’s an intriguing variation, and a much easier concept to swallow, at first, than a pumpkin spice-flavored whiskey. For that, they use locally grown pumpkins, roast them and squeeze out the juice, before blending it with the whiskey and adding vanilla, clove, allspice, cinnamon and orange.
Sacrilege, right? “Yeah it’s funny; it’s been both sides of the spectrum,” Reppucci says. “One dude on Twitter wrote, ‘These guys need to die.’ I was like, ‘That’s aggressive for whiskey.’ People have been fired up, but it’s not sugary sweet, and we’re using real pumpkins. When we do tastings, whiskey people are like, ‘No way, I’m not trying it.’ But then they do and they say, ‘Dude, that’s not bad.’” The reaction overall has been better than you might think, he promises.
Reppucci recommends trying it in a Manhattan with Carpano, or with fresh apple cider. And, while I might not reach for it as an everyday sipping whiskey, it’s certainly unique and worth a try, particularly if you prefer your wintery spices with a touch of booze — or if the line at Starbucks is too long.