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DISTILLERY REVIEW #2: NAUTI SPIRITS

Nestled among fields in North Cape May, NJ, the new Nauti Spirits Distillery may have a few wrinkles to iron out, but is off to a pretty great start. We have visited 3 times so far, and found our experience improved with each stop. The experience really begins in the parking lot, as you find yourself looking at nicely painted, modern, warehouse-like buildings, located in the middle of some farmland. Horses sometimes peak over the fence of a neighboring property, tall grasses blow in the wind, and herbs and spices that are used in the cocktails are grown in boxes right in the lot. Entering takes you along a short, self-guided tour, providing insight into the processes required to make their vodka. Upon reaching the bar area one is immediately impressed by the design mixing modern, rustic and industrial flourishes. It feels like a cool place to be and one you would want to visit again.

As for the vodka itself, on all 3 of our visits I ordered it with club soda (and on one visit had a sip of it straight), and am very impressed. It is smooth and easy to drink, with almost no burn. Being made from sweet potatoes (which is not something I had seen before) gives it a pleasant sweetness as well. It's not overpowering, but it's just there enough to make the vodka that much more interesting and enjoyable on its own. At $30 a bottle in the gift shop, it's well worth the price.

Our experience however has been a little uneven. Our 1st trip was before their official grand opening, and it was more than a little disappointing. The young man who took care of us seemed very confused about nearly everything, put way too much bitters into one of our drinks, and overcharged us for the aforementioned vodka and club. It was good, but $11 for such a simple drink is a bit on the absurd side. We chalked it up to opening week mistakes and figured we would give it another try after things had settled down. It's a good thing we went back as the subsequent visits have been much better. On visit #2, they had a special Strawberry Rhubarb cocktail that Patrick and one of our friends visiting from Massachusetts could not stop raving about, and the price of my preferred vodka and club had come down to a much more reasonable $9. Another of our friends had a drink with bitters in it and received a better ratio to other ingredients of that as well. Visit #3 was equally pleasant, and my drink had come down further to $8, which seems about appropriate. The bartenders on 2nd and 3rd visits were also much more knowledgeable and invested in the product. Lastly, and I know some people are going to disagree with me on this, but I find their practice of crushing the ice for drinks with a mallet in a small burlap bag to be a bit much, and something that should probably be discontinued. It is moderately impressive the first time, but after that it seems like it makes the process of getting ice both too loud and too time-consuming. You can feel free to disagree with me on that though.

All in all, they have managed to win us over. It's a great product, in a great location, and one you should definitely try to visit when you find yourself in the Cape May area.

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DISTILLERY REVIEW #1: CAPE MAY DISTILLERY

With the number of breweries and wineries that have sprung up these last few years in the Cape May area, one could easily avoid buying either of those products from non-local sources ever again. But what if you were after something a little harder? Enter the Cape May Distillery, which is offering rum and honey liqueur, with other products in the pipeline. Of course, just because it's local doesn't mean it's good, so is it worth paying them a visit?

Located on Route 47 in the Green Creek area in a warehouse-type building, it's a little tricky to find at first, though not really hidden either. Inside, there is a pleasant 1920's speakeasy vibe to the decor, with era-appropriate music playing, sometimes on a working hand-cranked record player. The bar was being staffed by one of the owners, who had a great personality for it, making conversation easy and natural. His passion for his product really shone through as well.

Of course all of that is moot if the product isn't any good. Luckily that was far from the case here. Upon being greeted we were immediately launched into a tasting of the liquors they currently have available, beginning with their Beach Rum. This is a clear rum, made with mixed drinks in mind. As such, it has a smooth, clean, inoffensive taste, that would blend well with pretty much any mixer you can think of. Next up was Barrel Rum, which was more traditional. Having come from wooden barrels, it has some caramel color to it, though still on the clear side, and features a richer flavor and some hints of vanilla, along with a slight warm sensation when swallowing. This was followed by Blueberry Rum. The aroma is quite potent, hitting our noses pretty much as soon as it was poured, but the flavor itself is much more mild. It was a pleasantly sweet sip that could easily produce some pretty creative cocktails. Fourth in line, and probably my favorite, was the Toasted Coconut Rum. Not as cloying as other coconut rums can be, the "toasted" part of the flavoring really made this stand out. We later had this mixed with birch beer and it was a delicious drink, perfect for sitting poolside in the Summer. The last tasting was of their Double Barrel Honey Spirits. Produced in a style similar to whiskey, but not allowed to be named as such, it is made from New Jersey honey, and unsurprisingly has a taste profile similar to mead, though far more enjoyable than any mead I've yet tasted.

Visiting the distillery was a lot of fun, and we both look forward to going back again and trying the new products they have in the pipeline. Between the excellent products they're making and the unique atmosphere they are cultivating inside, you should really make sure to give it a try, whether you're a local or just visiting the area.

GRADE: A

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