Say “CREWP-NEEK,” and the Polish consonants hit the back of your throat like gravel. Drink “Krupnik,” Djinn Spirits’ latest coup in the Nashua “boutique” distillery’s portfolio, and the sensation is as smooth as honey. Literally. Based on a centuries old recipe, the story goes, a Lithuanian monk “discovered the magic of spiced honey and spirits.” What the Poles went on to discover – and savor – is that the warm glow of the 80 proof combined with the equally warm glow of the cinnamon, among other spices, made the specialty liqueur the “queen bee” of hospitality. Honored family and guests are welcomed with the libation in Polish households where, often served hot, Krupnik really hits the spot on a cold winter’s night. A consideration not lost on Djinn Spirits founders, Andy and Cindy Harthcock, who had no trouble convincing throngs of tasters to become buyers at the recent Krupnik release party on a bone-chilling autumn weekend at the distillery’s tasting room, off Amherst Street behind Country Tavern in Nashua.
“And, the honey we use is Grade A from D’s Busy Bees, right here in Southern New Hampshire,” Cindy says proudly as she pours samples for the small crowd gathered from as far away as North Attleboro, Mass., a nurse before entering the brave new world of spirit distillation.
I thought I detected a little bit of honey in her voice.
“That’s from growing up in Mississippi,” she responds with a warm smile before greeting a new round of guests at the tasting bar. “Another thing about Krupnik – it makes a great elixir for a sore throat when added to a hot cup of tea.”
The sweet road to Krupnik’s success wasn’t quick or easy. Beyond all the technical know-how and paperwork tedium and minutiae, comes the art of alchemy.
“I spent a good year playing with the spice profile,” Cindy told me as the golden-hued liqueur lavished my taste buds and sinuses simultaneously before radiating down my chest. Cinnamon, lemon zest, saffron. If ever a good hot mess could be a good thing, this was it.
But there was something else. A hint of whiskey? I had to ask. Andy Harthcock takes me and four other curious spirit seekers on a tour of the distillery – something the computer engineer does every weekend and is obviously passionate about. No wonder. The gleaming floor-to-ceiling stainless steel “contraption” is state-of-the-art, and his own design. My eyes follow the Rube Goldberg-like maze of columns to the central kettle complete with blinking red computerized pressure gages.
Since last December, Djinn Spirits – the “d” is silent and evokes a kind of supernatural creature – has been distilling low volume runs of “crafted” gin, infusing juniper vapors and a supporting cast of other aromatics using a high-end gin head, plus white and aged whiskey, the latter aging in small, charred American White Oak barrels for a velvety finish and signature caramel color. It didn’t take long for spirit aficionados and the uninitiated alike to heap on the accolades; all that supernatural craftiness was paying off. Then the New Hampshire Liquor Commission wisely jumped on the “locavore” band wagon with a limited distribution equal to Djinn Spirits’ small, artisan output.
Andy points to the collection of 5-gallon barrels arranged on storage shelves and explains why small is the perfect size: “Our Beat 3 Reserve Whiskey matures at a much faster rate using these little guys and,” he adds, “we use the same barrels to age Krupnik for the ultimate smoothness.”
That’s it! All the dots connecting, I go back to the tasting room and ask Cindy for another thimble. The Krupnik dances on my tongue with new verve, the spicy vapors enveloping the senses with memories of my grandmother’s homemade hot-buttered cinnamon twists on a cold autumn day. A shame the woman was a teetotaler; she missed out on Krupnik’s deep, sinfully smooth finish sliding down to your toes, thanks to a small but crafty whiskey barrel.
Make plans to attend the NH Liquor & Wine Outlet’s 2nd Annual Distillers Showcase to benefit the Animal Rescue League of NH on Thurs., Nov. 20 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Radisson Manchester, featuring 400 spirits from around the world including Djinn Spirits at Booth #73 in the Armory Room. For tickets, log on to www.distillersshowcase.com
Djinn Spirits, Townsend West, Suite 9, Nashua, 03063, offers distillery tours & tastings, Saturdays & Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Find more information at their website, www.djinnspirits.com or call 617-649-6972.
Carolyn Choate loves to chew on food. Literally and figuratively. In the kitchen from her garden in Nashua or her favorite market, a restaurant across town or across the globe. When not masticating, Carolyn is likely swilling wine or spirits as neither is far from her heart – or lips. Forget diamonds and Louboutins, she’d rather blow a wad on Pinot Noir and grass-fed filet with fresh sautéed morels. And write about it. You taste the picture: The “Barking Tomato” aspires to push your “foodie” button. Carolyn’s day job is producing local affairs programming for WYCN-CD.