Mark Twain once stated, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” Thankfully, a growing number of enthusiasts agree with the famed author, which has led to a resurgence in the number of boutique distilleries focused on providing high-quality spirits by means of limited production.
Hudson Whiskey is one such distillery tucked away in Gardiner, New York. Whiskey Cake played host last night for a paired dinner, and both entities surpassed expectations. Finding inspiration in a 240 year-old Tuthilltown Gristmill located on-site, Hudson embarked on a journey that lead to the first whiskies being produced in New York since Prohibition. Brent Hammer, Whiskey Cake’s chef de cuisine, worked with artisans from Hudson Whiskey to create unique and innovative pairings that resulted in a whiskey dinner to remember.
The first pairing of the evening featured grilled octopus with green olives, chorizo, Marcona almonds, marble potato and salsa verde. This Mediterranean/Latin combination was naturally well-balanced, leading with the char of the octopus, the salinity provided by the olives and a dash of heat from the chorizo. Hudson’s New York Corn Whiskey, made from 100% corn harvested within 10 miles of the distillery, was young and rebellious. This particular whiskey was too raucous for my palate but still displayed an appropriate uniqueness for the opening round.
Chef Hammer followed the opener with the most creative dish I’ve seen in some time: cold, smoked tuna “ribs” complete with marinated watermelon and a jalapeño-mint vinaigrette. Appropriately served on a barrel stave, these ribs were a conversation piece amongst the tables. Sweet and smoky, with just enough heat to liven the senses, this dish seemed to embody Chef Hammer’s creative style. Paired with Hudson’s “Baby Bourbon,” a mellowed version of Hudson’s New York Corn Whiskey, I found this dish to be a very distinctive and flavorful.
The star of the evening came by way of a burger with house-cut fries. But this isn’t just any burger. This rendition had an inventive combination of simple ingredients, masterfully prepared. A lightly grilled, airy 3-inch brioche bun locally sourced from Empire Baking Co. served as the perfect housing for layers of iceberg lettuce; aged Irish cheddar; and a seared medium-rare, dry-aged brisket patty smothered with silky onion marmalade. Hudson’s Four Grain Bourbon, the most flavorful and balanced of those available to sample, provided the optimal finish.
The decadence continued with a serving of a single roasted veal bone stationed atop a bed of sea salt. The solitary bone was elegantly topped with multiple layers of flavor, including local sheep’s milk ricotta agnolotti, duck pancetta, black trumpet mushrooms, and horseradish. Upon indulging, one cannot help but appreciate chef Hammer’s superb skill of combining ingredients. The marrow was warm, earthy, and rich. The trumpet mushrooms intensified the “earthiness,” while the house-made duck pancetta lent smoky overtones as subtle heat was derived from the minimal addition of horseradish. For further refinement, we were presented with Hudson’s Single Malt, which displayed spicy notes, a full mouth-feel and a lingering finish.
The final plate of the evening was a house-made cardamom doughnut with roasted banana, sea salt pastry cream, and maple rye. It’s exactly what one would expect from Christine O’Donoghue, a recent alum of Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. Sweet and salty, this dessert hits all the senses simultaneously and, paired with Hudson’s Manhattan Rye, it was a simple and savory conclusion to the evening’s near-flawless line-up.