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Lavender and lemon balm with a side of scrapple, please

May 28, 2021

We at Cape Gazette like to keep you guessing, so let’s take a little quiz: What are Candy Manor, Silver Screen, Double TroubleD and Off the Hoof? If you guessed online games that Facebook invites you to play (very annoying, I know…), then you would be wrong. They are actually a few of the core products from Smyrna’s Painted Stave Distilling, one of Delaware’s own micro-distilleries.

Candy Manor has been renamed Botanical Dry Gin and is Painted Stave’s take on western gin; sporting overtones of lavender, goldenrod and lemon balm. Mix this with their house-made tonic syrup crafted from cinchona bark (a natural source of quinine), hibiscus flower, lemon balm and natural cane sugar, and you have yourself a delightfully different, slightly pink but not-at-all-sweet gin & tonic. And if the South American lore is correct, it’ll also cure what ails ya’. Silver Screen is a proprietary vodka made from wheat. It is not overly filtered, so a gentle sweetness lingers after the first sip.

Regular readers might correctly assume that I have a particular fondness for Painted Stave’s Off the Hoof vodka. This one’s distilled from corn, and is flavored with sage, black pepper and … wait for it … real scrapple. I first tasted it live - on the air - on my radio show. I quietly worried that it would be heavy with greasy overtones. I was wrong. The whisper of sage and pepper brings nothing more than a clean spark of spice.

What sort of minds could possibly come up with these unusual potables? A mad scientist, perhaps? Well, you’re close. Co-owner Ron Gomes isn’t mad, but he is a scientist with several degrees, one of which is a Ph.D. in physiology. He came to Delaware in the late ‘90s, and earned his post-doctorate fellowship in developmental bone biology at University of Delaware. He also served on the faculty at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey. I asked him why he didn’t proceed toward his MD degree and he said, “I never wanted to work so hard as to put myself through medical school.” Then he laughed, “Now all I do is work!”

Ron’s business partner, Mike Rasmussen, came to Delaware to work for AmeriCorps. He ended up working in education, spending lots of time on the road in Delaware and elsewhere. In his free time, he loved to visit craft breweries and distilleries. Even as a teenager, he was fascinated with the distillation process. “I was the young guy who showed up at parties with scotch when everyone was drinking Bud Light.”

Recently, Painted Stave has made lots of waves with their Bottled in Bond bourbon and dry whisky. Bottled in Bond is a specific level of quality mandated by the government in 1897 to certify that a distillery’s product met certain requirements. This appellation is a big deal for such a small distillery. In fact, Kevin Roberts (local bourbon maniac and partner at Bethany Blues) pours Painted Stave’s Diamond State Straight Bourbon and Diamond State Straight Rye at his bourbon-centric BBQ restaurants. Few things go together as well as bourbon and barbecue, and Roberts does them both very well. A little live blues at the Lewes location doesn’t hurt either.

It looks like the craft spirits explosion in Delaware continues unabated into 2021, thanks to the brave brewers and distillers like Ron and Mike who have brought their entrepreneurial spirits to Delaware. That cannot be a bad thing.

 

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at byesbek@capegazette.com.

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