Bill Dowd photoPennsylvania, which can lay claim to some of the earliest whiskey stills in colonial and early America, has largely been out of the national public eye in recent years except for some decent wines that have begun to emerge. But the national vodka craze has provided the stage for a return to the spotlight for distillers.
• Penn 1861 Vodka
Philadelphia Distilling, a three-year-old company that has been making a name with its Bluecoat American Dry Gin, has branched out with this new rye-based vodka, named for the year in which King Charles II of England granted William Penn his charter for the settlement that is today's Pennsylvania.
But it's what is inside the bottle that its makers are hoping will make history. I found it alluring through the nosing stage, slightly spicy from the rye, then warm, smooth and creamy when tasted straight. None of those rough edges too often found in inexpensive vodkas, which this certainly is. And, with a splash of Noilly Pratt dry French vermouth, it makes an excellent martini, losing none of its velvety mouthfeel.
The rye is local and organically grown. It is distilled by master distiller Robert J. Cassell four times in a copper pot still made specifically for the company. It incorporates proprietary designs that help separate the alcohols more than is common.
I've been outspoken on the quality of Sobieski, a sub-$20 vodka that has been garnering excellent consumer acceptance in its short life. If Pennsylvania Distilling can get distrbution for its new vodka, it should quickly find a similar strong market niche.
Suggested retail price: $20.
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