Just when I thought that we had peaked on our first ever K&L whiskey club field trip to St. George, along came Davorin Kuchan and his Belmont microdistillery's many miracles, which wowed us even more. I like to make Old World Spirits a regular hangout, trying to get over and catch up with Davorin about once a month if possible. However, no matter how many times I think I've tasted everything he's got going, the Croatian master distiller pulls out something new that I never saw coming. He loves having that rabbit to pull out of his hat, you can tell by the twinkle in his eye and his little smirk after I start raving about how awesome his newest creation tastes. I knew that if I brought some of my most passionate customers over to meet him that they too would fall under his spirited spell. Davorin did not disappoint as he unveiled his freshly distilled unaged rye as soon as we walked in.
Getting the full 170 proof right into my glass was a real treat. The rye is legit and has everything you'd expect aroma-wise, but there's a twist. Davorin is distilling it two times and using eau de vie yeasts in the fermenting process, resulting in a lighter and fruitier whiskey without losing any of the concentrated rye flavor. I can't wait to see how this ends up tasting after some time in charred new oak. Davorin said his wood is on the way, so it won't be long until he beings the maturation process.
As we gathered around the table and began to discuss the distillation process, we needed to only look a few feet to our left for a functional example of every explanation Davorin provided us. We were lucky enough to have caught him on a work day, so the steady stream of peach eau de vie splashing gently into a bucket was music to our ears the entire time we were there. "Go on over and put your glass in so you can taste it," he told us and no one had to be told more than once.
Getting to taste the peach spirit at such a high proof on its first run through the still was amazing. The aromas at the point of the process are so much different than those eminating from the final product. The Kuchan peach eau de vie is brimming with floral and crisp peach aromas, while the first run spirit is ripe with peach pie and cobbler. We all took a step back and were completely taken with the experience. Truly a geek-out moment for all us spirit nerds in attendance. Not only did we get to taste the peach spirit off the still, but we also got to watch Davorin unbarrel a fresh batch of fermenting peaches and load them into the boiler to begin making a new batch - all the while sipping on whatever happened to find its way into our tasting glasses.
Davorin makes some fantastic eau de vie and we have long carried his peach, pear, and walnut brandies, but soon to hit the line up will be a fantastic new framboise made of 100% raspberry distilled eau de vie with a bit of fresh raspberry juice added in at the end. Not only does the brandy taste like the pure essence of raspberry fruit, it also brings along the earthiness of the seeds and the tannin of the skins. The flavors are remarkable and I think it will end up being the most successful of all his fruit based products.
Not everything at the distillery is fruit based however, as Davorin is becoming best known for his delicious Blade gin. Made with more of a citrus focus, Blade is becoming the absolute go-to gin for all citrus-based cocktails, so I made sure to whip us up a round of Corpse Revivers while we were there topped off with Davorin's Le Sorciere Absinthe Bleu. He makes the traditional green absinthe as well and we made sure to taste both complete with water dripper and a flashlight to catch all the cloudiness of the luge. Davorin has a small barrel room that houses his zinfandel brandy as well as a few other experiments. One of those trials that seems to have gone unbelievably well is his barrel-aged Blade gin that was undoubtedly the highlight of the afternoon. When he drops this later this year, the current barrel-aged options like Ransom and Citadelle Reserve won't know what hit them. This is the real deal - rich, wood-enhanced herbal goodness bursting with spice and citrus. You could use it in a cocktail, but it tastes so good straight sipping that you probably would never make it into the kitchen to grab the ice and the shaker. It might rule our holiday season at K&L if Davorin can release it in time.
We ended the tour with a round of brandy barrel samples and a taste of Davorin's now sold-out walnut liqueur. He hopes to get a new batch of walnuts later this month to begin distillation on a new batch of brandy. The small group that made their way over to join me was completely won over by the end of the afternoon. Davorin held our attention for over two hours of lecturing, tasting, sampling, and distilling. With his convenient location and endless barrage of tasty products, Davorin has been winning over other Peninsula enthusiasts for the last year with his Friday night flights held on the last Friday of every month. If you get the opporunity, head on over and pay him a visit because it's as much fun as it is educational. You won't get the Whisk(e)y Club VIP tour, but you'll still get fantastic time out and a whole new appreciation for fruit-based spirits.