A bartender with wild dreams launches a unique line of bourbons with a candy crush | FOOD DRINK
Justin Michael Morales needed a backup plan. The veteran bartender and restaurant manager has always loved the service-industry pirate lifestyle, but he’s seen too many co-workers let down when they tire of his long hours and physical demands.
The managing partner of Marlborough Tavern had long thought about starting his own spirits business to secure himself in the industry and share his love of craft drinks on a larger scale, but he never had the time to do so. this dream a reality. . Then the pandemic hit, and when the industry was at its most volatile and weird, Morales saw an opening. “It’s like Littlefinger from game of thrones says, ‘Chaos is a ladder,’” says Morales, who has worked in the industry for the better part of three decades.
When the pandemic started, Marlborough Tavern started offering the allowed take-out cocktails due to the shutdown issues. His old-school version started selling incredibly well. Customers loved its blend of bourbon alcohol and silky smoothness. But the drink was difficult to make, so he raised the price, trying to limit demand. Even still, people continued to buy the drink. “There was a waiting list; I couldn’t keep up,” he said.
He decided he would produce his old fashioned on a large scale. However, as he tried to get the concept off the ground, he realized that he could not register an older model with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. “It’s not a spirit denomination,” he said. To continue climbing the chaos ladder, Morales had to take inspiration from another popular, albeit far less violent, TV show, and “Pivot!”
Old-fashioned cocktails are made with rye or bourbon and muddled sugars and bitters, with a hint of citrus peel. As Morales began to explore ways to produce his old fashion on a large scale, he discovered rock spirits, liquor sweetened with crystallized candies – “rock” – as well as bitters and citrus fruits. Rock and rye first gained popularity in the late 1800s as medicine and have recently seen a resurgence in craft distilleries. Looking at modern spirits, Morales saw rock and rye being produced with rock and rum and rock and brandies, but despite much research then and since, he has found no rock or bourbon during manufacture.
Morales saw an opportunity and decided to turn his old-school recipe into the country’s premier rock and bourbon. Like the cocktail that inspired it, rock and bourbon is made with honey, rock candy and various bitters. “I didn’t have to change the recipe, it fitted in perfectly with that,” he says. “It’s basically an old-fashioned, but technically and legally recognized by the United States.”
Morales launched Up n’ Down Rock and Bourbon in June. The spirit is made with a bourbon that Morales purchases in barrels from Indiana that is brought to Central CT Distillers in East Hartford where Morales and his team add ingredients. “We empty the barrel, then we use figs. We use locally sourced honey. We use birch sap and cherry oak and a bunch of other stains.
The finished product is not advertised as a ready-to-drink cocktail, but it is, an excellent one. Straight from the glass, it has the perfect amount of bourbon bite balanced by smooth, velvety notes. The bottle I recently bought to, uh, research this story is already half sold out and will soon need to be replaced.
Morales is planning special versions of the bourbon, including a cask version and a pumpkin version for the fall.
Liquor is available statewide, and if your local liquor store doesn’t carry it, they can order it for you. You can also enjoy the spirit in its birthplace at Marlborough Tavern, where Morales recommends it as part of two cocktails: The Night Rider, a twist on an espresso martini; and Secretariat, made with fresh lemon juice, ginger ale and mint.
But part of the spirit’s appeal is its ready-to-drink nature. “I can go straight to the old fashioned way with a nice big rock with an orange and a cherry,” Morales says.
That’s how I enjoyed it.
Up n’ Down Rock and Bourbon
In line: savorupndown.com, @savorupndown on Instagram