Message in a Bottle

OWIf you’ve ever been looking for a wallet-friendly bottle of whiskey, your gaze may have wandered along the brown liquor shelf from Evan Williams to Wild Turkey to settle on Old Williamsburg Kentucky Straight Bourbon. The bottle relies on our fair borough’s multifaceted mythology to worm its way into your liquor cabinet, so for anyone with a healthy dose of borough pride, the black and gold label is hard to resist-especially when it’s not your first booze run of the night.

Bourbon has long relied on place-based taste to set it apart from all the other bottles on the shelf. Normally that place is Kentucky.  Google your favorite bourbon-chances are you’ll find a Web site with a video about the barrels that bourbon was aged in and a photo gallery of old-timey distillers and their friends drinking it over the sepia-hued years.

Old Williamsburg eschews that foggy-bottom folksiness for the grainy aesthetic of 19th-century Brooklyn. The label on the back of the bottle explains that bourbon was once the choice drink of Brooklyn’s beer barons. It’s a far cry from the normal talk of stills, barrels and the bourbon maker’s grandpappy-a refreshing change of pace. In fact, it’s an honor to have Brooklyn provide the backstory for such a venerable alcoholic institution.

There’s another element to OW that allows it to claim Brooklyn roots: It’s kosher. Been wishing for a Passover whiskey? You found it. And, you know, it’s totally drinkable. Evan Williams or Old Overholt (if rye is more your speed) are a little more flavorful and only slightly more expensive, but mixed with ginger beer OW holds its own with none of the indelectability associated with some whiskeys available in the same price range.

But while OW relies on that iconic bridge to channel the borough’s appeal back in the era of ragtime, Absolut Brooklyn, the just-out, special-edition, ginger-apple-flavored vodka, is more about rap. The icon immortalized here is a brownstone stoop-the one belonging to a young Spike Lee, in fact-which has been rendered on Absolut’s flame-colored label by the movie-maker himself. The Lee-designed label also includes his hand-drawn rendition of Lars Olsson Smith, Absolut’s Swedish founder, and a snippet of verse from the street-centric poet and playwright Lemon Andersen, whose 2009 off-Broadway memoir was called County of Kings. (“Somewhere in the world Brooklyn in da house and you know we won’t stop spreading love cause that’s our way.”)

Both bottles are transplants (AB from Sweden; OW from Kentucky, by way of Minnesota where it’s distributed) but as for so many of us resident alien drinkers, that just makes the Brooklyn pride all the stronger.

Courtney MacGinley

A freelance writer, full-time mom and part-time Professor of Journalism at Suffolk County Community College, Courtney MacGinley is a firm believer that some of the best times are spent around the dinner table. Her work has focused on Long Island's culinary scene in the pages of Edible East End and Edible Long Island magazines for nearly a decade.

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