Tipsy Tastes: Montauk Hard Whiskey

(This article was originally published in the November 15, 2017 issue of The Independent Newspaper as part of my Tipsy Tastes series)


Montauk’s downtown watering hole 668 The Gig Shack has a harder side to it many may not know about — whiskey production. Montauk Hard Label is produced right in the back of the restaurant, where oftentimes in summer you’ll hear customers ordering the flavorful blueberry whiskey over the aluminum-sided bar. Masterminded by Skylar Gardell in 2014, whose family owns the restaurant, with fellow locals Tommy “Chicky” Ciccariello and Mike Demasco, a liquor business began — eventually adding on Tom Loncar, director of sales, and Abby Gawronski, director of marketing.

“Ciccariello is the excitement behind the company, actually he’s the excitement behind life! Every time you see Chicky he’s got the biggest grin on his face,” Gawronski enthusiastically explained. “Mikey Demasco is the Montauk Hard Label researching genius, he’s always out in the field and is also a great face for the company. Skylar Gardell is the creative brain behind the blueberry whiskey. He can sell blueberry whiskey to just about anyone,” she said.

The trio’s love for the liquor and the personality behind such a taste confidently ignited a business. Inspired by Irish whiskey brands, they unleashed an American bourbon-style spirit featuring the shark jaw label created by local artist and jewelry designer Erin Boyle.

Montauk Hard Label has two flavors — the original, made up of 100 percent yellow sweet corn, and blueberry-infused with natural extract. Both are distilled four times. Working with a boutique distillery, the company utilizes existing recipes as a jumping-off point to experiment with its own. Over the tried and true maple or cinnamon flavors, blueberry may come as a shock to some whiskey aficionados.

Ciccariello, who’s been in the food and service industry for over a decade, realized the potential for such a unique flavor and the creative cocktails he could concoct, like the Blueberry Old-Fashioned, made with the label’s blueberry whiskey, bitters, and a sugar cube over ice. And new for the season is the House Mulled Cider with blueberry whiskey to release those warm and fuzzy feelings inside.

As the bitter cold months blanket The End, the business is focused on building brand awareness. “A few weekends ago we attended the 20th annual October Ball at the New York Public Library in NYC. It was incredible to see our whiskey on the shelves and to have some of the elite young entrepreneurs sip on blueberry whiskey. As far as community we love to align ourselves with causes and events of interest. Golf, surfing, dinner parties, winter sports — you invite us, we’ll be there with a bottle of whiskey (or five),” Gawronski noted.

Whether you’re a local or crossing the stretch, as you enter the doors of The Shack and take a seat at a table or bar stool, look out for one of the owners’ friendly faces. Sip or savor, but whatever you do, make sure you “Go Hard.”

Tipsy Tastes: Life is Better Liv’d

(This article first appeared in the November 1, 2017 issue of The Independent Newspaper)


Amid the miles of famed North Fork Wine Country resides a different kind of alcohol batching — Long Island Spirits, an original craft distillery. Visit the restored barn in Baiting Hollow, which celebrated a decade of operation last January, and step onto the balcony that overlooks 5000 acres of potato farms deeply rooted in its culture. The operation has a long, spirited history.

In 1908, Henry and John Columbus emigrated from Poland and constructed the barn that still stands today. During the Prohibition Era, it’s rumored the barn’s cupolas held lanterns signifying clearance for rumrunners to smuggle their libations.

The Columbus family farmed potatoes up until 1943, when the Wanat family purchased the property. The Wanats lived next door, in what is today known as Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyards, and continued the potato farming tradition through 1968, when it was sold to Joseph Piccone Sr.

During the Piccone era through 2001 the property was leased to the local farming community. Unused, the barn deteriorated.

When deciding between tearing down the barn in its entirety or beginning a full resoration, Joseph Piccone Jr. chose to revitalize the historic bones. Opened in 2007, the barn retains much of the original character and serves as the headquarters to the spirits craft distillery.

Downstairs listen to live music on the outdoor terrace prior to heading up the stairs to the main level of the distillery. To the right, look down at where the magic starts and to the left meet the friendly bartender serving up the latest, or classic, creation.

Long Island Spirits has several well-known bottles of gin, whisky, and vodka, the ultimate triple threat. The liquors are distilled three times through twin, 650-litre, costum-made copper pot stills and uses water sourced from an aquifer below the Pine Barrens Forest Preserve.

Long Island Spirits’s Pine Barrens label serves up a barrel reserve botanical dry gin, cherrywood smoked malt, and American single malt whisky. The Deepwells label boasts a botanical dry gin and the Rough Rider pours a Happy Warrior cask strength bourbon, Bull Moose three-barrel rye whisky, the Big Stick winter rye, and straight bourbon whisky. Of course, the LiV vodka comes in the original, standard, ristretto espresso vodka, and fresh fruit-infused sorbettas in lemon, lime, orange, raspberry, and strawberry flavors.

Can’t get enough pumpkin-flavored everything? Make yourself a pumpkin spice latte with ristretto espresso vodka, pumpkin pie sorbetta, simple syrup, half and half, and garnish with some whipped cream and cinnamon. For those with craving the best of both fall flavors, try the Pumpkin Pie Martini with vodka, pumpkin pie sorbetta, apple cider, and shake it well — serve with a sugar rim. Another take is the Holiday Spice Cocktail which calls for vodka, pumpkin sorbetta, apple cider, ginger beer, and is garnished with crush ginger snap rim or a cinnamon stick.

LI Spirits has a list of cocktails to concoct at home right on their website at