The newish Newcastle distillery uses local blueberries and horseradish to infuse its vodkas.
“Everything is made from scratch,” said Topher Mallory. “We start right from scratch, and it’s all organic.”
He poured a tiny splash of vodka into a miniature plastic cup and handed it to me. I took a swig, and it went down smooth.
I was in the tasting room of Split Rock Distilling, a new business located off Route 1 in Newcastle. Since July, Mallory and his partner, Matt Page, have been serving pours of their organic vodkas and whiskeys that are manufactured on site in beautiful steel and copper stills.
But the business has been in the works for far longer than that. The two distillers started crafting their spirits after purchasing the property in 2014.
“We talked around the idea for a long time, but we had either had too much or too little bourbon to think this was a good idea. But we knew we wanted to create something, to handcraft something we loved,” Mallory said.
Finally, one day they drank just the right amount of bourbon and decided — what the hell — let’s go for it.
It still took some time to get the recipe just right and to find locally grown grain. Currently, much of their grain comes from Vermont, but Mallory hopes to have a 100 percent Maine-made product in the next two years. He believes that once more farmers realize there is a market for Maine grain, more of them will begin producing it.
Split Rock also works closely with local farms, donating its spent grain to a local dairy to use as cow feed. (Some brewers and distillers sell their spent grain, but Mallory cites “good karma” as a reason for dropping off his mushy mixture without charge.)
“Our goal is to try and source from as close to the distillery as we can,” Mallory said. “To that end, we source our blueberries for our blueberry vodka from Elderflower Farm in Lincolnville, Maine. They sell low-bush, wild, organic berries.”
Instead of flavoring the vodka, Split Rock uses the blueberries to infuse the liquor, which gives it a moody purple hue. “We left that beautiful blue color in because we believe it helps tell our story,” Mallory said.
Similarly, the horseradish vodka is made with infusions from Snake Root Farm. While the blueberry is sweet, smooth and smells like summer, the horseradish drink is bright and spicy (and would be aces in a Bloody Mary).
While I’m not normally a whiskey drinker, Split Rock’s whiskey proved an exception. Like its organic vodkas, this craft drink went down incredibly smooth, leaving a sweet, smoky aftertaste. “Our model is that, if we don’t want to drink something neat, we don’t want to sell it,” Mallory said.
“We went into distilling because once, back when, there was a distillery on every corner … We want to get back to that — to when you knew where your whiskey came from.”
It’s only been a few months, but business at Split Rock is rolling along nicely.
WHERE: 16 Osprey Point Road, Newcastle
HOURS: Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily
AMENITIES: Beautiful tasting room with gleaming wood bar, free samples of whiskey and vodka, organic drinks, friendly staff.
BOTTOM LINE: Maine’s first 100 percent organic craft distillery, Split Rock serves smooth shots of whiskey, white whiskey, vodka and infused vodka. Tours of the distillery are available, and you can purchase their products on site. Cocktails coming soon.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes