Thanks to a few select distilleries, grain spirits are on the fast track to becoming the toast of the town.

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George Washington made them. Ditto Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin. Now a new generation of Americans is making grain spirits — unaged whiskeys that can be consumed after they’re distilled and cut with water, unlike their traditional counterparts, which are aged for months, even years, in oak barrels before they’re bottled.

Koval Distillery (1) in Chicago, Catoctin Creek Distilling Company (2) in Purcellville, Va., and Death’s Door Spirits (3) in Washington Island, Wis., make aromatic grains the star ingredients for their spirits, unlike most conventional spirit manufacturers , who typically start with a grain-neutral base. In fact, Koval is the only U.S. company that distills an array of organic grains — spelt, wheat, oat, millet and rye — for its boutique spirits. These unaged whiskeys , also known as fast whiskeys because they’re made quickly, are surprisingly versatile: They’re good straight up, on the rocks or mixed into flavorful and fragrant cocktails. “If you want more character in a cocktail, you need to start with something that already has character,” says Sonat Birnecker, who owns Koval with her husband, Robert.

The Birneckers decided to focus on white whiskeys because the market was saturated with other alcoholic beverages. “Something that’s really artisanal needs to be handcrafted,” she says. “The only way to get something that’s 100 percent grain is to do it from scratch.” The Birneckers make small batches of spirits each week using grains from Midwestern farmers. Each step of the distilling process, from the mashing to the bottling, is completed on the premises. The certified kosher spirits are also used as a base for the company’s line of liqueurs.

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FIX YOUR OWN
Mixologists like to use grain spirits to create new drinks and punch up old standards like dirty martinis and margaritas. Here’s a recipe from Christopher Becerra at Uncommon Ground in Chicago that you can easily make at home.

Local Celebritini

2 oz. Koval Rye Chicago
1 oz. Koval Rose Hip Liqueur
1/2 oz. simple syrup
A dash of orange bitters
1 oz. fresh-squeezed orange juice

Combine all ingredients in a shaker.
Garnish with lime or blood orange.


Selected Restaurants Serving Grain Spirits

Nopa San Francisco
560 Divisadero (at Hayes)
(415) 864-8643
www.nopasf.com

Uncommon Ground Chicago
1401 West Devon Ave.
(773) 465-9801
www.uncommonground.com

Cure New Orleans
4905 Freret St.
(504) 302-2357
www.curenola.com

WD-50 New York
50 Clinton St.
(212) 477-2900
www.wd-50.com

The Patterson House Nashville, Tenn.
1711 Division St.
(615) 636-7724
www.thepattersonnashville.com

Biella Excelsior, Minn.
227 Water St.
(952) 474-8881
www.biella-restaurant.com

Steuben’s Denver
523 East 17th Ave.
(303) 830-1001
www.steubens.com