Terroir — the flavors imparted by place rather than process — is a term that’s long been reserved for wine. Even though all booze begins its life as a plant, grapes seem to have soaked up all the credit for the importance of geography in your glass. But as eating and drinking locally becomes ever more important to consumers, it was only a matter of time until someone tried to change all that.
Tamworth Distilling is a small, artful operation bringing big, boozy ideas to a small New Hampshire town. They’re dedicated to crafting small-batch hooch that tastes like the time and place it came from. Tamworth produces a range of spirits, both clear and aged, but their most notable products might be the intriguing line of experimental infusions that utilize botanicals plucked right from their garden or foraged from the farms and fields in the surrounding White Mountains. One of their quirkier products, Eau De Musc, is a bourbon infused with, among other things, an extract from the castor gland of (responsibly trapped) local beavers—you don’t get more New Hampshire than that. It’s safe to say they take their commitment to drinking local very seriously.
That seriousness starts at the top. Tamworth Distilling is the brainchild of Steven Grasse, who left a successful career in advertising to conceive of a couple of spirits you might have heard of—Hendrick’s Gin and Sailor Jerry Rum. After selling Sailor Jerry in 2008, he launched Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, a quartet of spirits based on Founding-Father-era recipes. He also used the proceeds to purchase a house in Tamworth in his family’s historical home state of New Hampshire, where he began to pursue his dream of more experimental craft distilling.
Tamworth’s “scratch-made” ethos extends from the top right down to the nuts and bolts. The distillers source non-GMO grain from organic farms no more than 150 miles from the distillery, then mill it themselves to produce a custom neutral grain spirit in-house (many distillers, both large and small, purchase commercial-grade ethanol and dilute, age, and bottle it as their own—we’re looking at you, Tito’s). It’s more expensive and much more time-consuming, but it creates a product that’s custom-tailored, truly local, and utterly unique.
The distillery itself is housed in the gorgeous and beautifully preserved Tamworth Inn. There, beneath the ancient rafters, alcohol alchemy takes place in a shiny, American-made copper still outfitted to produce every kind of spirit you could ask for, to allow for maximum experimentation. Water is sourced from a nearby aquifer, which benefits from the state’s un-frackable granite bedrock, meaning it’s free of drilling and chemical contaminants. Once complete, spirits are aged in the old Tamworth Garden barn, where the town’s boxing matches used to take place.
All this history points to a purpose—everything produced at Tamworth aims to bottle a little moment in time. The distillers tinker with flavors in the on-site test kitchen, taking deep dives into local oddities like castor glands and bee propolis (the stuff the industrious insects use to cement their hives together), bottling the essence of their surroundings in high-quality, small-batch spirits that range from a tamarind cordial in collaboration with a local author to a barrel-reserve gin distilled with summer flowers and rested in whiskey barrels.
Want to get your hands on some? There’s a rotating selection of bottles available to order online here, but for the full experience you’re gonna need wheels. Tamworth is a funky little town tucked beneath the White Mountains just two hours north of Boston, well-worth the day trip (or go wild in the tasting room and make it an overnight. Take a tour of the distillery, then pop down to the Tamworth Lyceum (also owned by Mr. Grasse) just a skip down the road—it’s a country cafe, general store, and concert venue serving up a little bit of small-town everything. Just don’t forget to pick up a bottle or two to bring home.