Food & Wine Makes a Case for Adding these House of Tamworth Products to Your Home Bar

Consider adding these seafood-steeped spirits to your home bar.

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A crab freshly caught

In the whiskey world, you don’t have to look very far to find what many people consider to be a gimmick. You’ve got whiskey barrels loaded onto container ships that traverse the oceans, supposedly increasing interaction between liquid and wood as they are rocked by waves and enter different climates. There are countless cask finishes, from sherry to rum to tequila barrels used for secondary maturation. The latest craze is using amburana wood from Brazil, which makes whiskey taste like a mouthful of potpourri.

There are gimmicky spirits in other categories as well, such as tequila that has supposedly isolated terpenes in agave, leading to dubious claims about health benefits. And there’s even aged vodka, with some producers touting the effects of letting this colorless, flavorless spirit develop as it sits in a steel tank for years.

House of Tamworth line
Courtesy of House of Tamworth

At first glance, Tamworth Distilling seems like it would fit squarely into the gimmicky spirits category. Over the past few years, this New Hampshire distillery has released a range of some truly bizarre whiskeys that seem like they were conceived during a particularly lucid mushroom trip. The distillery’s House of Tamworth line includes Eau de Musc, a bourbon flavored with beaver castor gland oil along with other botanicals. A few years back, Bird of Courage was released, a bottled-in-bond whiskey flavored with Thanksgiving dinner ingredients like cranberries, cornbread, sweet potatoes, and roasted turkey. And let’s not forget Crab Trapper, a whiskey infused with an invasive green crab species that went viral upon release.

The most recent release is Saison de Frai, an apple brandy flavored with smoked trout that comes with a little roe in the bottom of every bottle. Steeping seafood in whiskey is hardly a sensible thing to do, yet it works here. The smoked fish flavor of this new brandy is subtle, with notes of apple, vanilla, and spice rounding it out, somehow resulting in a tasty sipping spirit. Distiller Will Robinson detailed the process of taking smoked trout and pulverizing it in a food processor to increase the surface area before submerging the fishy paste in barrel-strength brandy, an image that sounds pretty gross. That liquid was distilled to become a clear spirit, while still retaining the trout flavor, and then blended together with straight brandy.

Steven Grasse, the founder of Tamworth Distilling, created brands like Hendrick’s gin and Sailor Jerry rum years ago, both of which were acquired by William Grant & Sons. That deal resulted in a nice pile of money, enabling Grasse to embark upon much weirder flights of fancy. Since opening the distillery in 2015, that has meant coming up with these experiments, along with a range of much more traditional spirits like vodka, gin, bourbon, and rye, many of which are made using organic grain and fruit from local farms and botanicals from the surrounding area.

Crab Trapper and Saison de Frai were inspired by a desire to raise awareness about issues of environmental sustainability and the effects of climate change on local flora and fauna. “We’re seeing trout numbers come down because our streams are more acidic and our fisheries get hit because green crab numbers are exploding,” said Robinson. “There’s no other distillery where I could tie in issues that I feel are important for all mankind with a spirit.”

Although House of Tamworth spirits come in small 200ml bottles, and are not exactly cheap at $65 each (you can order them directly from the Tamworth website), a little goes a long way, as these expressions were really designed to be sipped rather than used for cocktails. Still, whiskey or any other type of booze is meant to be enjoyed however you like, so the team at Tamworth came up with the idea of combining Crab Trapper and lemonade for a “bright and briny” summer cocktail. There’s also a new spiked eggnog drink termed “Crabnog”, that is especially perfect for the holiday season.

By the end of this year, Tamworth will have put out 15 new products, which is a lot for a small distillery that only makes about 26 barrels of bourbon per year (compare that with the more than 2,000 barrels per day produced at Buffalo Trace). “I like exploring and finding new things,” said Robinson. “I like to find barrels of oddities that our distillers put away and figure out how to add flavor to them. But I’m not going to put anything out that doesn’t taste good.” Fortunately, the Tamworth lineup is consistently weird and often delicious, proof that even some “gimmicks” can result in great spirits.

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