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Damnation Alley Distillery Opens in Belmont

StriperGuy Oct 25, 2013 09:19 AM

Okay so the formerly booze-free (blue law) town of Belmont, MA now has it's own micro-distillery.

http://www.damnationalleydistillery.c...

I scored a bottle of their unaged barley whiskey made from MA grown barley.

Pretty amazing to be able to source MA grown grain at all (though I imagine it would be easier with corn) in sufficient quantities, though their stills are admittedly small.

They also make a vodka.

Tasting notes:
The whiskey has some of the usual nice vegetal, grassy, fruity notes that I like in an unaged whiskey. It is very smooth and fruitier than most of the others I've had. I drank it neat, and I think it is so delicate and smooth that neat really is the way to go. At $40 per 750ml it's less than say Tuthilltown unaged corn whiskey, but not an every day tipple.

They will face the usual challenge of starting a distillery which is the fact that the "good stuff" has to barrel age for 5-10 years. I would love to see some eau de vie, apple jack, etc which do not require aging. Problem is the market for those things is much smaller.

I think they are only selling at the distillery for now. Give it a whirl if you are in the neighborhood.

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  1. Infomaniac RE: StriperGuy Oct 25, 2013 10:31 AM

    What color did the whiskey have to it?
    The few unaged whiskey's I've tried lately haven't been to smooth to the taste.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Infomaniac
      StriperGuy RE: Infomaniac Oct 25, 2013 11:23 AM

      Totally clear as are most unaged whiskeys.

      1. re: StriperGuy
        Infomaniac RE: StriperGuy Oct 25, 2013 01:33 PM

        That's what I thought. I anxious to stop by next time I'm visiting my sister.

    2. Alcachofa RE: StriperGuy Oct 25, 2013 01:53 PM

      Dag, I ride my bike by there all the time. Had no idea. I will give it a whirl soon, I hope.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Alcachofa
        StriperGuy RE: Alcachofa Oct 25, 2013 01:56 PM

        That could make for an adventurous bike ride... hic.

        1. re: Alcachofa
          c
          ColoradoXJ13 RE: Alcachofa Oct 28, 2013 06:38 AM

          My bike commute home takes me right past there every day too...since they don't do tastings or sell drinks, I think it will just make for a ride home with a bottle in my bag in the near future.

          1. re: ColoradoXJ13
            a
            antimony RE: ColoradoXJ13 May 12, 2014 06:29 AM

            Ditto. (How bizarre is it that three chowhounds go past there on a bike commute? Wacky.)

        2. k
          katzzz RE: StriperGuy Oct 25, 2013 04:20 PM

          I wish all the luck in the world to Damnation Alley and all the other emerging local distillers. But strictly from a consumer point of view, I don't know why I'd want to buy a $40 bottle of spirits made by a newcomer to the booze business (or so I assume) when I could get a decent bottle of, say, cognac from an experienced maker for the same money.
          But maybe I'm missing something. Are these local spirits that good? Or is the attraction simply the thrill of trying something new and different? I guess what I'm saying is that I don't understand why a local distiller's product deserves to be sold at a somewhat high price point, the equivalent of a premium liquor. Sure, they probably need to charge whatever they're charging to turn a profit, but on the other hand, maybe they should be charging less to attract customers and build a following. Or to put it yet another way, is the Damnation Alley hootch "not an everyday tipple" because it's so wonderful or because it's so expensive?

          4 Replies
          1. re: katzzz
            StriperGuy RE: katzzz Oct 25, 2013 07:19 PM

            Short version, you're spot on. I support them cause they're local, and doing something cool, but most micro distilled whiskey isn't as good as say Jim Beam and costs 4x as much (I can get a handle of Jim Beam for $24 or so.)

            I have a soft spot for unaged whiskey, but it's really not rocket science.

            I do wish someone would make a local Apple Jack that would be unique.

            1. re: StriperGuy
              k
              katzzz RE: StriperGuy Oct 26, 2013 06:54 AM

              I too would love to see local applejack, a natural for New England. I suppose with Laird's being so inexpensive and the limited demand for applejack, it doesn't have great appeal for local distillers. Then again, offering a "craft" alternative to Laird's might be a shrewd move.

              1. re: katzzz
                yarm RE: katzzz Oct 26, 2013 12:00 PM

                Laird's Applejack (not their Bonded or their 7.5 or 12 year versions which might qualify as the "craft" alternative to the applejack) is 35% apple distillate. Which is why it can be made so cheaply (as low as $9.99 in New Hampshire state liquor stores) since it's about 2 parts vodka-like to one part apple brandy. The bonded is really good but rather hard to source these days (at least here in Massachusetts).

                http://cocktailvirgin.blogspot.com

                1. re: yarm
                  MC Slim JB RE: yarm Oct 26, 2013 12:33 PM

                  Okay, I'm going to be a bit more careful with my bottle of Laird's Bonded. Been drinking it with unpasteurized cider lately.

                  http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

          2. yarm RE: StriperGuy Oct 26, 2013 12:03 PM

            Also curious if they "make" or make their vodka. Many vodka and gin distilleries buy bulk grain neutral, clean it up, and attach a good story and name to it.

            The MA grown barley is less of a surprise since many Massachusetts breweries have been making beers out of Valley Malt's grain products based out of Hadley, MA. Notch is one that makes a good one with this MA-sourced grain.

            http://cocktailvirgin.blogspot.com

            11 Replies
            1. re: yarm
              d
              Dynamoo RE: yarm Oct 26, 2013 01:02 PM

              Hi! I'm one of the owners of Damnation Alley Distillery. In answer to your question, we do not, and will never use neutral grain spirits in any of our products. We also don't use any industrial enzymes in our mashing process. All of our spirits are brewed, fermented, distilled, and bottled in our Belmont distillery, from only Massachusetts grown ingredients.
              We're always happy to answer any other questions as well, contact info is on our website (www.damnationalleydistillery.com).
              Thanks!
              Emma
              Damnation Alley Distillery

              1. re: Dynamoo
                h
                hyde RE: Dynamoo Oct 26, 2013 04:52 PM

                @ Katzz, This is why i will pay 40usd for a bottle of booze from this joint.

                Its the same reason I buy meat at M.F. Dulock , or lamb from the guy at Coolidge (who gets it from western Mass.)

                I would rather spend a larger portion of my food dollar on a locally sourced product who is trying to grow a business than from a factory farm in China or a multi national conglomerate who could not care less about the impact their business has on us as consumers.

                Besides, when did cheap food become a good idea anyway?

                1. re: hyde
                  k
                  katzzz RE: hyde Oct 27, 2013 06:22 AM

                  I totally agree with you about local sourcing and supporting local businesses. But my question concerned quality of the product. I have no doubt that the locally sourced meat you buy for a premium price is both tastier and healthier than what you'd find in most supermarkets; you are getting a superior product for your money. Are any of the local spirits superior products? I have no idea, but I'd like to know. It would make me happy to spend extra to get a great bottle from a local maker, but I'm not interested in spending big bucks on something only because it's local. Can you recommend locally-made spirits that you love? How do they compare with the non-local brands?

                  1. re: katzzz
                    Infomaniac RE: katzzz Oct 27, 2013 08:12 AM

                    A few I have at home now:

                    Bully Boy made in Boston has a white whiskey that most of my friends like. It's not my favorite but I'm drinking it.

                    Berkshire Mountain Dist. makes an interesting corn whiskey and bourbon that I like, and keep around.

                    Turkey Shore Dist out of Ipswich makes the Old Ipswich rums.

                    Ryan & Wood out of Gloucester has some good product you can find around locally now.

                    These local distilleries and the many other ones are sprouting up all over New England.

                    For me it's not a question of buying it because it's local. I'm buying because it's only available local, and your not going to find it on any retail shelf, or at every bar/lounge.

                    Problem is finding ones you like, and that you would want to serve guests in your home. They make great conversation topics when you are making drinks for guest, and gifts.

                    Not all of these places are putting out great quality, or are satisfying my taste. With the micro-distillery products, you really have to try for yourself.

                    1. re: Infomaniac
                      MC Slim JB RE: Infomaniac Oct 28, 2013 07:04 AM

                      I'm a fan of a lot of these, but the Berkshire Mountain London dry style "Greylock Gin" is not one I would buy again: too rough.

                      http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                      1. re: MC Slim JB
                        c
                        CportJ RE: MC Slim JB Oct 28, 2013 07:28 AM

                        I felt that way about one of their special batch Ethereal gins, as well as too floral for my taste. I also thought that was the case for one of the local rums that I tried at an event, but I can't recall which one. However, I really like Wire Works Gin from Grand Ten Distilling in Southie.

                        Does Vermont count as local? I don't know Whistle Pig rye all that well, but it's reputation is strong.

                        1. re: CportJ
                          MC Slim JB RE: CportJ Oct 28, 2013 07:37 AM

                          Whistle Pig is a delicious and very smooth straight rye, but at $60-$70 for 750ml at retail, it had better be.

                          Purists have hooted at them disdainfully for not really making the product; it's bottled in Vermont, but made by Alberta Distillers in Calgary. Unlike some Canadian whiskies described as "rye", this one does have a 100% rye mash bill, thereby meeting the ATF's legal definition of straight rye (at least 51% rye grain).

                          http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                          1. re: MC Slim JB
                            StriperGuy RE: MC Slim JB Oct 28, 2013 07:50 AM

                            Anyone with the proper federal licenses can buy pre-aged whiskey or commodity alcohol for that matter (vodka) from an enormous distiller and bottle it in your own folksy label with a nice (fake) sounding history on the back.

                            Plenty of folks do it. Plenty of the faux micro distilleries do it, particularly with vodka (what is the one with a guy's name?). That is just pure marketing.

                            Folks actually distilling their own from local materials, that is admirable.

                            I don't pay $14 a pound for Artisanally roasted coffee very often either, they are starting with beans that they pay maybe $5 a pound for tops...

                            For any small food business, getting the economy of scale to any reasonable place where you can compete with say The Canadian source of Whistle Pig (lord knows how many 10,000 liter fermentors and 2,000 liter stills they have) is very tough.

                    2. re: katzzz
                      StriperGuy RE: katzzz Oct 28, 2013 06:40 AM

                      My experience with most of the unaged whiskeys is that they are very nice and interesting neat, but really should be sipped, more like a grappa than a good bourbon. In cocktails I find they don't mix very well with most things, or in a strong drink the character is just blown away by the other ingredients and you might have well just used a more industrial (cheaper) product.

                      I don't think I've ever had (and I make quite a few cocktails myself) a really successful cocktail made with an unaged whiskey that made me think "this is a great use of a $40 bottle." There are cheaper unaged whiskeys too, but to me they just don't play well in cocktails.

                      For the newer micro-distillery rums, sorry the price value compared to say El Dorado, Barbancourt, or any of a dozen others is just not even close. Most of the micro rums don't really taste like much of anything and IMHO are totally not worth it.

                      Some of the aged micro whiskey's are tasty (I like the Tuthilltown products) but if you are looking at price/value compared to say any decent aged whiskey made on an industrial scale, I feel it is pretty hard to justify their prices:

                      $56.99 for a .375L bottle for example, just not worth it:

                      http://zachys.com/retail/ProductView....

                      They are nice, even very nice, but at that price point you are in some pretty rarefied air and there are LOTS of good booze fighting for that dollar.

                      1. re: StriperGuy
                        s
                        Solteropolitano RE: StriperGuy May 4, 2014 01:38 PM

                        We happened onto the about-to-open Wiggly Bridge Distillery on a day trip around York, Maine last weekend, my first experience sampling locally made spirits. I was pretty favorably impressed, even at that price point, and will be back when they open with enough stock to sell to the public.

                        1. re: Solteropolitano
                          StriperGuy RE: Solteropolitano May 4, 2014 05:37 PM

                          Cool.

              2. c
                ColoradoXJ13 RE: StriperGuy May 7, 2014 11:25 AM

                I forgot about this thread, and just saw it bumped up today. I have now bought three bottles from Damnation

                1. 375mL of their 6 month aged Rye Whiskey, $40
                2. 1L of the 6 month aged Single Malt, $100
                3. 1L of the 6 month aged Bourbon, $100

                I have to say, I love their stuff. I haven't tried the Vodka yet, and yes, they are not cheap, but they are really excellent. The rye is a little sweet, with notes of cinnamon and chocolate. Single malt is a little hotter but also great cinnamon and vanilla notes. The bourbon has a distinct corn note. I really love them all, and am so sad that I am almost out of the Rye, it is my favorite of them, hence my buying the bigger bottles of the latter 2. Looking forward to their upcoming releases.

                As a note, they are selling out of the whiskeys faster and faster with each release. The rye took a couple weeks to sell out, the whiskey took a few days, and I got the last 1L bottle of the Bourbon about 2 hours after the release. I wouldn't be surprised if people are lining up an hour before the next release. I'll probably skip the smoked single malt on 5/23, I am not a big scotch fan because of the smokiness, but I'll definitely be there for the next single malt release on 6/20.

                7 Replies
                1. re: ColoradoXJ13
                  Unfoodie RE: ColoradoXJ13 May 7, 2014 12:18 PM

                  Sounds disgusting and looks expensive. Whiskey is aged to add flavor and mellow out/coverup the off notes.

                  $100 for a liter of bourbon aged for a measly 6 month is criminal. They must be trying to recoup their costs by pushing out barely aged whiskeys (see Bully Boy). Who cares if it's local and hard to get if it's an inferior product? Amazing how people convince themselves that cost = quality.

                  I'm really starting to hate the "local first" movement especially when it comes to beer and spirits. So many sub-par breweries and distillers survive and get stroked simply because they're nice guys from right down the street.

                  1. re: Unfoodie
                    c
                    ColoradoXJ13 RE: Unfoodie May 7, 2014 01:08 PM

                    These whiskeys are aged in 5 gallon barrels, which provide a much larger surface to volume ratio than the usual 55 gallon barrels, thus require much less aging as the process is sped up. If fewer off notes are generated in the mash/distillation, less aging is needed as well.

                    Expensive, yes, but it is small batch, local ingredients, and made by people who hand the bottle to me. I enjoy these whiskeys immensely, and am happy to pay the price. I don't identify the flavors that I described as disgusting (Cinnamon, chocolate, and vanilla are all charred-oak derived flavors one might find in any whiskey/bourbon). I'd say the demand for their products (selling out faster and faster) speaks loudly about what customers think of the product. I wouldn't have bought a second bottle if the first was not to my liking. I don't purport myself to be an expert in spirits, but I know what I like. I keep $20 bottles of Old Overholt right next to my $100 damnation bottles, and enjoy them both. If you don't want to step up and spend the money to try something new...well...one less person on line in front of me for the next release.

                    I don't disagree that many local-first products are crap and overpriced, but I don't post negatively about them without even trying them. The markets will regulate those that don't put out good products, especially as the market becomes saturated. Watch what happens to the small breweries in coming years, tons of options and tons of competition will drive the bad ones out of business.

                    1. re: ColoradoXJ13
                      Infomaniac RE: ColoradoXJ13 May 7, 2014 01:39 PM

                      Excellent reply, and couldn't have said it any better.

                      1. re: ColoradoXJ13
                        k
                        katzzz RE: ColoradoXJ13 May 7, 2014 03:48 PM

                        If your paying $20 for Old Overholt, you're overpaying.

                        1. re: katzzz
                          c
                          ColoradoXJ13 RE: katzzz May 12, 2014 06:06 AM

                          Hah, yeah, but when one is desperate for an old fashioned, one cannot spend time shopping around :-)

                      2. re: Unfoodie
                        StriperGuy RE: Unfoodie May 8, 2014 07:51 AM

                        I agree that the pricing is a bit out of hand.

                        And I also agree that the quality / price is just not there for many of the new locally made food products, and for spirits in particular where the capital costs of laying down all your product for 5 years before you have anything to sell effectively limits the little guys/ startups.

                        I also agree that aging is small barrels as a way to cheat and hurry aging does not really create a superior product. It is discussed at some length in this thread here:

                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9702...

                        That said, the folks who started Damnation are essentially hobbyists who spent quite a bit of their savings setting this place up. With their gear I am not sure they can ever be profitable... scale is everything in distilling. So if you want to support some local hobbyists and help them pay back some of their startup costs we can give it a whirl.

                        Will they ever make a world class product? Heck even Tuthilltown Spirits which make some really wonderful stuff is pretty out of whack in the price / deliciousness spectrum: www.tuthilltown.com

                        All that said, I'm not sure your virulence is really necessary. Don't like it, don't buy their stuff. Damnation is not a bunch of crooks, they are hobbyists who are attempting to share their pricey hobby and make back some of their sunk costs.

                        Personally I am sure I'll be drinking a lot more Jim Beam, Evan Williams, and Michter's than I will $100, aged 6 month, whiskey.

                        1. re: StriperGuy
                          Unfoodie RE: StriperGuy Jun 9, 2014 03:29 PM

                          Well said. I've become a bit too salty when discussing local spirits/beer and I needed to be put in my place. If it make a person happy to try something rare, albeit not a good value, then go for it. Who am I to say what's "good" when everyone's taste, experience and bank account are different?
                          Which is why I took a break from the board for a few weeks.
                          Personally I can't get behind products just because they're local and rare and the owners are nice people if it is not of value and quality.

                          Tuthilltown used to be everywhere until people finally figured out that it's not a superior product at a premium price.
                          Blue Hill Brewery had a greater presences in the market when they first started until people realize that the beer was iffy at best.

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