Lynn, Lynn, City of Sin, You’ll Never Come Out The Way You Came In
– Not the favorite poem of people of Lynn
Lorri and I had to do a kid drop off and pickup in Lynn MA, so I Yelp’ed for cocktail bars in the area and I came across Deacon Giles Distillery in nearby Salem, which had its own “Speakeasy Lab” which SOUNDED interesting, but I was skeptical. Distillery bars are usually excuses to “shill the in-house product” first, “make the distillery tour more attractive” second, and “be an actually good bar” damn hardly ever. Shit, we’ve been to the new bazillion dollar visitor center at Jim Beam, and even their whiskey cocktails had the whiff of door to door salesmen despite the fact that a minute away they were making Knob Creek, Booker’s and Old Grand Dad 114 (the all time best bourbon for Old Fashioneds). But the Yelp reviews made it sound infinitely better than getting late fall frostbite on a soccer field, so off we went.
Upon entering the bar, we saw many promising signs: an array of attractive glass tiki mugs, a bubbly crock pot of mulled hard cider and an imposing dispenser of something called the House Barrelled D’egroni. There was also an impressive lineup of the distillery’s liquors, rum gin, vodka and more … could all of these actually be good?
We were greeted cheerfully by Corey, who turned out to be the perfect ambassador for a distillery. You want someone who’s deeply knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the in-house products but has the savvy to dole out just the right amount of information for a given audience AND has the bartending chops to construct drinks that show off the products to their best advantage while still being interesting cocktails in their own right. Corey checks off all of those boxes and can probably fill in for Tom Brady or Mookie Betts if either of those dudes go down for a month.
The menu looked good … like “good enough to be a hipster cocktail joint in the South End” good:
Lorri took on their Last Call Daiquiri and I went tiki with the Yippie-Ki-Yay, launching into the …
WORLD’S FIRST TIKI HAIKU PLAY (in one act) :
John: “Yippie-Ki-Yay! Tiki with Gin – so rare!”
Corey: “I know! Fog Cutter!”
John: ” Love it! Saturn too!”
Corey: ” The Yippee-Ki-Yay IS a Saturn!”
Bruce Willis: “Yippie-Ki-Yay, Fog Cutter!”
Three Way Tiki High Five ensues.
Fade to Black.
Disclaimer: No haikus were harmed during the filming of this play.
Disclaimer 2: OK, that’s a lie.
Lorri’s Last Call Daiquiri was essentially a Hemingway Daiquiri. Yes, the Daiquiri is known as the ultimate three way balancing act of cocktails, but the Hemingway is the equivalent of riding a tightrope with a poorly lubricated unicycle and two breakdancing monkeys doing moonwalks on your arms as they’re splayed out in Walk Like an Egyptian pose (No, I am NOT writing this from the bar at Deacon Giles, why are you asking??).
If you undercut the grapefruit by a hair, you end up with Vaguely Annoyed Daiquiri, but if you overshoot the maraschino by a hair you end up with the dreaded Robitussin Sour (this is why I stole the Hemingway Heat concept from jm Curleys and just make the whole thing spicy with Scrappy’s Habanero because it gives you a margin of error the size of the Marianas Trench). Corey’s Hemingway got us to the other side in one piece, so kudos on a sturdy rendition using their white rum, Liquid Damnation.
Corey’s Yippie-Ki-Yay kept my hot streak of bright interesting tikis going. I was a little burned out from a summer of high proof, densely complex, luxuriously sweet tikis so it’s been great to hit on a new wave of lighter tikis. The Yippie-Ki-Yay used Deacon Giles’ Original Gin to provide a clean base for the cinnamon, passionfruit and cloves (smartly done as as dusting which gives you bursts of sharp clove flavor without the usual clove domination infusing throughout the entire drink). The use of panela, an earthy unrefined cane sugar that’s probably denser than demerara, in the cinnamon syrup was interesting, likely adding a heft that the rum-less Saturn needs.
My follow up was the Rum-erac, a rum sazerac using their Aged Amber Rum and their … whaaaaat? … Absinthe? Who makes absinthe in Massachusetts? Of COURSE it’s a distillery in evil, evil Salem. I can’t say that this cocktail reminded me much of a Sazerac which relies so heavily on the spicy bite of rye whiskey but I WILL say it was a fiendishly clever Rum Old Fashioned.
Lorri’s Back Bar was our favorite of the visit, with their Amber Rum, cranberry and an egg white rosemary-clove “meringue”, a skillful balance of acid tartness, aged rum richness and herbally tinged foam. This one’s a strong candidate for my next “Boston Originals” cocktail hour.
Deacon Giles does tours and tastings at 1 and 3 pm but Corey was so informative and generous with free samples that we didn’t plan to stick around an extra half hour for the tour (we had steamers at nearby Turner’s Seafood in our sights and the place was filling up for the tour anyway). Here’s the rundown of their offerings:
Their standard lineup:
- Liquid Damnation White Rum – a light, crisp white rum, very flexible for cocktails
- Solera Costera Amber Rum – this was Lorri’s favorite, with a good amount of complexity without being overbearing (possibly due to its solera method where a bit from each batch gets used in the next batch). We bought this!
- Friendship’s County Spiced Rum – didn’t try this one
- Yankee Ingenuity Vodka – this was the surprise of the day, especially as we’re no fans of vodka. Their vodka is unusually made from cane sugar instead of grain and the end result is somehow super crisp without being stripped to nothingness and having a clean sweetness around the edges. Unbelievably, we bought this, too!
- Original Gin – We liked this very much too, a great example of what happens when you dial back the juniper and let the supporting cast shine (with the unusual inclusion of mace which is the lacy stuff that covers nutmeg). Not as viscous as other craft gins (Privateer’s Tiki Gin, another superior new England Gin) but pleasantly spiced.
Some of their occasional releases:
- Dry Gin – more of a classic juniper forward London Dry, but not obnoxiously so to me who really DOESN’T dig heavy juniper
- Apple Cordial – a collaboration with a nearby orchard/hard cider producer. Why isn’t it a brandy? Because it’s designed to be legal in bars with a cordials license (read more about the wackiness of cordials licenses in Boston on our posts about the Bootleg Special and Coppa).
- Coffee Rum – Used on their Big Lebowski/White Russian nights, this rum is NOT screwing around. Serious coffee flavor, but in a good “strong but mellow cold brew” way not a “bitter motor oil” way
- Absinthe – Deacon Giles uses a process where they freeze the wormwood before tossing it into the witchy brew (OK, I have NO idea how absinthe actually gets made), causing the cell walls to expand rapidly and release more flavor. Their absinthe has much less of the obnoxious anise/licorice flavor that makes 90% of humans really NOT dig absinthe and we were surprised how drinkable and pleasant it turned out to be, almost more like a light amaro or chartreuse. Somehow we ended up buying THIS too!
The bar also has some sweet swag – their clothing designer has a good eye for contemporary pop design that still retains some of Ye Olde New England look. I was able to barely resist grabbing a hoodie because I found a rocks glass with a demon’s head on the bottom … which leads me to the explanation of Deacon Giles’ name which I’ll shamelessly paraphrase from their excellent website .
I know what you’re thinking: Deacon Giles was some religious dude who forced poor New Englanders to go without alcohol in some backwards town and the founders of this distillery named it after him as a big EFF YOU to this A-hole of history. Yawn … we’ve heard it all before.
There was no real person named Deacon Giles, just a character in a story from 1835 written by George Cheever, a minister from Salem. In the story Deacon Giles was making rum illegally on the Sabbath until he pissed off his employees and they walked out. He hired a bunch of new guys who unfortunately turned out to be DEMONS who sabotaged him rum by making it glow with evil light when the barrels were tapped. OOPS!
Cheever wrote this as a barely disguised attack on a local businessman, so barely disguised that he was convicted of libel and sentenced to a public whipping. DOUBLE OOPS!
So Cheever was a jerk who got his just desserts .. but on the other hand he found a better SIN to fight against (i.e. slavery) so I guess he redeemed himself and then some.
Still the story of Deacon Giles’ Distillery became popular … and lives on in the form of a big-ass mural on the wall of the distillery. FUN!
So the real fun of this whole story is that the two founders of this distillery, Ian Hunter and Jesse Brenneman, originally intended to open yet-another-brewery before coming across the Deacon Giles distillery story and deciding to make a go of opening a REAL distillery in the town where the story occurred – CRAZY!
Lorri and I were deeply impressed with what these guys are doing. All of their products show a intrinsic understanding of these spirits and a strong desire to make something that’s substantially different than what’s in every liquor store. It’s extremely rare to see a small distillery capable of making such a wide array of quality spirits and even rarer for them to also invest in a richly entertaining cocktail experience. Deacon Giles is well worth the trip on many levels.
It’s obvious that these are the kind of people who will only do something if they can do it well and we’re extremely lucky to have distilleries like Deacon Giles, Privateer, Short Path and several others in Massachusetts.