This semi-regular series alternates between Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen songs that perfectly complement a good bourbon and a quality book. You can make your own suggestions and recommendations in the comments section or by tweeting @WritersBone.
By Daniel Ford
I needed an earthy tune to pair with John Benditt’s The Boatmaker, a hymn ingrained in ancient soil.
I’ve been a huge fan of artists covering traditional music throughout the last decade (particularly Springsteen’s “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions” and Neil Young’s “Americana”), so I didn’t mind replaying Bruce’s album with a glass of Rough Rider in my hand. I chose “Pay Me My Money Down” because it features many things that also appear in The Boatmaker: money, power, fighting, drinking, disrespect, and racism (be sure to check out this blog post to learn more about the song’s African-American history, as well as several renditions). Money almost becomes its own character in Benditt’s debut novel, so I can imagine the lesser workers on the Mainland singing this song after a few pops at the end of a long work day.
I love researching for this post because it often leads to a field trip to my local liquor store. As I was browsing the bourbon selection at the The Wild Duck in Boston, a familiar name caught my eye: “Rough Rider.” Being an avid American history buff, I read Edmund Morris’ crackling, vivacious narrative trilogy based on Theodore Roosevelt’s life and came away even more in awe of the truly larger-than-life character. Of course he would have a bourbon named after his famed military unit!
Despite having a namesake that once hunted all manner of wild game and spent considerable time in the wilderness (both foreign and domestic), Rough Rider was just about as smooth as it gets. I pulled the cork out, expecting the smell to challenge me to a duel, however, it sauntered sweetly into my living room, ready to partake in a lively discussion about today’s political climate. I normally drink my bourbon with ice, but Rough Rider’s grace allowed me to casually sip it all night while I finished The Boatmaker.
I also reached out to Richard Stabile, founder of Long Island Spirits, to find out more about the history of this top-notch bourbon.
Daniel Ford: Can you give us a little history on your distillery?
Richard Stabile: When we opened in 2007, we were the first “legal” distillery to appear on Long Island since the 1800s and we were also one of the first of new generation of craft distilleries to appear in New York. We are housed in a completely renovated 100-year-old, 10,000-square foot horse barn that backs up to more than 100 acres of potatoes and winter rye; which is also adjacent to Long Island Sound on the North Fork. The production part of the distillery is on the first floor and there is a beautiful tasting room on the second floor, where the 30-foot rectification columns pass into and are visible through glass. Our first product was LiV Vodka, which takes advantage of Long Island’s iconic potato that has been grown here on Long Island for more than 350 years. We are located on the bucolic North Fork, which features the acclaimed wine region with more than 60 wineries, so we started making brandy for a number of the wineries. We then went on to create some other wonderful and very innovative spirits including our all natural vodka-based fruit infusions called Sorbetta, Pine Barrens Single Malt Whisky, our Rough Rider Straight Bourbon and Rye Whiskies, and most recently our Deepwells potato gin.
DF: What makes your Rough Rider bourbon special in today’s market?
RS: We did not want to try and out Kentucky that state of Kentucky on the taste profile with our bourbon, so the inspiration for Rough Rider Bourbon came about from producing brandies for the wineries out here on the North Fork of Long Island. We produce Rough Rider Straight Bourbon Whisky in 10 to 20 barrel batches by first mingling older and younger straight bourbon whiskies. We then use ex-merlot and chardonnay French wine casks that have been washed with our 170-proof aged brandy and do a second maturation of the Rough Rider Straight Bourbon whisky, which is where they will rest for an additional three to six months. The extra maturation in the brandy-washed French oak casks transforms the Rough Rider into a much mellower, with the sweet brandy notes on the palate. Ironically, Rough Rider is probably one of the smoothest bourbon’s out there.
DF: We assume everyone isn’t a diehard Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen fan like we are. So, if you had to pair your bourbon with any song, which one would it be and why?
RS: I am huge Bruce fan. No question “Born in the USA.” Who’s more American than Teddy Roosevelt and his band of Rough Riders?
DF: Since we’re gearing up for another presidential election, if you were going to run Rough Rider for President, what would your campaign slogan be?
RS: “Walk softly and carry a big stick.” We actually just released a new 121-proof cask strength rye called Rough Rider “The Big Stick.”
DF: Can you name one random fact about your distillery?
RS: The barn the distillery is housed in has twin coppolas on it that were used during Prohibition to hang a lantern to signal to rum runners on the Long Island Sound that the coast was clear.
I can’t say enough good things about The Boatmaker. I’ve been reading at a pretty rapid pace the past few months, but I really sat down and took my time devouring this debut. Benditt does some expert world-building, breathing life into the parable style of storytelling. Most of his characters don’t just live in his world; they weather and survive it. The boatmaker begins as a simple man on Small Island, near death from a fever. He believes he’s given a directive to build a boat and sail to Big Island and the Mainland. His naivety nearly kills him throughout his journey, but his curiosity and determination to make sense of these strange lands don’t allow him to turn back. Readers see the world largely through his eyes so I still don’t have a deeper understanding about the power and cultural dynamics at play in this troubled kingdom. I guess it’s a lesson for all of us that not all countries are completely knowable, even if you’ve inhabited it forever. You might have more questions about the boatmaker’s reality (as well as our own), but, trust me, they will be questions worth asking and debating over a glass of brown liquor.
For those Bruce, Bourbon, and Books fans interested in such things, The Boatmaker features plenty of drinking, whisky, sex, women, fighting, and bloodshed. I wouldn’t try to keep up with the title character's drinking though. The boatmaker would long outlast you and then build a casket to house your pickled bones.
For more Bruce/Bob, Bourbon, and Books, check out our full archive.