Words and Photography by
Grain to Glass
Get in the spirit of Split Rock Organic Distilling
From the moment you step foot into Split Rock Distillery, the owners’ infectious personalities and hospitality are evident. Topher Mallory and Matt Page are excited for good reason: Along with support from their staff, customers, the community, and other local businesses, these distillers have created Maine’s first organic spirits.
Whether it’s the quality of the unbleached sugar or the use of solar energy sources, Page and Mallory are dedicated to pushing the needle on responsibly. This goes beyond just creating their organic whiskeys, rums, vodkas, and gin and includes post-production, where spent grain is repurposed as organic agricultural feed or organic compost, keeping production as close to 0% waste as they can get. In early 2018 Page and Mallory purchased Royal Rose Organic Syrups, a perfect match for their all-organic, small-batch, personal-touch style.
The tasting room at Split Rock is well designed with a beautiful hand-carved and polished wood bar, colorful bottle labels, a hand-crafted wood-clad wall, wooden barrels, and lots of fantastic Split Rock logo gear. There’s a lot of shine to be seen, but it’s the stainless and copper stills that first catch your eye. The distilling room, where it all happens, is as spotless as the stills are shiny. You feel the welcome and see the pride in their craft.
Split Rock has made a name by producing organic spirits, but at the end of the day, “we are makers of moments, and that is the secret sauce that keeps us up at night and what has made the tasting room buzz!” Mallory says. Today Maine is seeing rising interest in experiential travel; visitors want to immerse themselves in the region’s culture, history, people, and artisanal craft. At Split Rock, guests experience the great care and pride that Mallory and Page put into their craft and take away not just the lingering flavor of a tasting room, but also their excitement and dedication..
Page and Mallory aim to demystify where their products come from and un-complicate the cocktails and mocktails that they create. They have committed to never selling anyone else's alcohol in their bottles, a practice that is said to be more common than you would think in the world of big spirit producers.
At Split Rock, you can wander into the tasting room at any time and witness the entire operation through the glass wall. You’ll see the equipment that makes them a true from-scratch distillery. Just like their products, Page and Mallory are completely transparent with their cocktails and have recipes readily available.
Split Rock Distillery is located at the Red Barn on Route 1 in Newcastle, Maine. Their doors are open to the public daily and tours and complimentary tastings are always available, with cocktails primarily offered on the weekends. All products are available in the tasting room, and syrups are also available for purchase online at royalrosesyrups.com. Follow Split Rock on Facebook to see what fun food truck or special event may be going on during any given weekend.
Did You Know?
- Split Rock picked their location based on water quality, the starting point of every recipe, and they are focused on that logic with every subsequent decision.
- All of their ingredients are MOFGA- and USDA-certified organic.
- 100% of their spent grains, fruits, and other ingredients are repurposed as organic agricultural feed or compost in local area farming operations.
- Fifty to 100% of their operation is powered by solar power (weather dependent).
- Their grains are all sourced in New England.
- They collaborate as much as possible with local area organic farms (certain organic botanicals, fruits, and sugars are not available in the Northeast).
For autumn inspiration, give these four cocktails a try.
Fig Old Fashioned
An old fashioned is the preferred go-to for any bourbon fanatic; a simple starting point to improvise from. Specific to this variation using figs, Page and Mallory say that figs vary on the flavor spectrum from sweet to berry, and they wanted to showcase the nuances of the fig, so they opted to drop the traditional bitter component of an old fashioned and substitute their Royal Rose Three Chile Syrup (made from poblano, jalapeño, and ancho chilies). Additionally, rather than the traditional “sugar cube” in an old fashioned, they used just a splash of their Split Rock Bourbon Barrel Rested Organic Maple Syrup, infusing more whiskey barrel notes and tones. This created a nicely balanced, not-too-sweet old fashioned. Think sounds of rustling colorful leaves and crisp cool air. This is a delicious autumn sipper to add to your cocktail repertoire.
2 organic dried figs
2 ounces Split Rock Organic Bourbon Whiskey
½ ounce Royal Rose Organic Three Chile Syrup
¼ ounce Split Rock Organic Bourbon Barrel Rested Maple Syrup
¼ ounce balsamic vinegar
Orange peel and fig for garnish
Destem and quarter figs. Place in the bottom of glass or shaker, add syrup and muddle. Add rest of ingredients. Add ice and shake. Strain twice using a tea strainer or fine mesh strainer.
Pour into a glass with ice—try a single large cube or sphere to slow the melt (Split Rock even sells sphere ice molds.) Garnish with orange peel and a halved fig.
The Royal Rita is a vodka-based riff off on a margarita. Simple, refreshing, bright, and with the perfect amount of sour mouthfeel, minus the pucker. The vodka is made from 100% organic New England corn. From this flavor-forward sweet base, they added a pepper note with the Three Chile Syrup, and rounded it out with a sour mix made from fresh-squeezed lemons and limes (no additives, no concentrate, no preservatives). The chile syrup is—as us New Englanders put it—wicked tasty. For those of you who want to hold on to the warmish autumn days before fully embracing the cooler air that awaits, this is a sweet and sour vacation inspiration. And somehow this tastes like it might just have tequila in it. They’ve done a really nice job on this rita-riff.
3 ounces Split Rock Organic Vodka
1ounce Royal Rose Organic Sour Mix
1ounce Royal Rose Organic Three Chile Syrup
Wedge of Lime
Optional: edible local flowers
Add ice to a glass or shaker. Add vodka, sour mix, and three chile syrup. Shake, building your desired natural amount of foam.
Open shaker and pour into your favorite margarita glass. Garnish with a lime, a few edible flowers and enjoy immediately.
Black Rose (Mocktail or Cocktail)
The ease of making this drink morph from cocktail to mocktail is in its brilliance; an unbelievably refreshing and unique drink perfect for entertaining (or for family fun with the mocktail version). Blackberries and rose are the dominant notes, regardless of alcohol, which elevates both flavors in the bourbon version. There are sage hints both in the tasting notes and the visual intrigue. This cocktail is reminiscent of a deepening red maple leaf tree.
1 tablespoon Royal Rose Organic Rose Syrup
For the cocktail version, add 1 to 1½ ounces Split Rock Organic Bourbon.
In a glass, muddle blackberries and rose syrup. Add ice, then soda water and stir.
Garnish with sage leaf.
A classic late-fall cocktail to help you ease into the colder nights, showcasing a local honey with Split Rock's four-grain bourbon and Royal Rose's Spicy Hot Toddy mix. Cardamom notes in the hot toddy syrup are accentuated with the addition of a few cloves. The rye notes in the bourbon and the classic cinnamon stick make this a relaxing fireside hit. The result of this perfect blend is a smooth, mildly sweet toddy, not cloying like many. It might just be what the doctor ordered for your next flu or bug.
1½ ounces Split Rock Organic Bourbon
½ ounce local honey
½ ounce Royal Rose Organic Spicy Hot Toddy Syrup
1–2 cinnamon sticks
3 whole cloves
Add whiskey, honey, and syrup to a warm mug. Stir with cinnamon stick.
Toss in cloves and add boiling-hot water.
Let sit for 2–5 minutes before enjoying.
Dana Moos is the author of The Art of Breakfast: How to Bring B&B Entertaining Home, as well as a former innkeeper and has spent many years dazzling her guests with food and drink.