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Whiskey tasting raises funds and spirits at The Old Stone House

December 5, 2016 Noted Culinary Historian Tonya Hopkins Presides Over Blends and Single Malts Special to the Brooklyn Eagle
From left: Robert Nickelsberg, Joe McCarthy, Margaret Weber and Tonya Hopkins chat over various blends. Eagle photos by Andy Katz
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Whiskey warmed hearts and filled coffers in Washington Park’s Old Stone House as supporters gathered to compare aromatic spirits and sample wood-fired herbed breads and pastries.

“This is the first time we’ve featured whiskeys,” Executive Director Kim Maier explained. “Though we do hold many food events throughout the year.”

Outside, amid a deepening gloom and increasingly chill winds, Oven Steward Jace Harker worked a massive brick oven, using a long-handled spatula to turn round rosemary breads dotted with fresh raspberries.

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“I saw community ovens like these for the first time in France, on my honeymoon,” Harker said. A recent addition to the Old Stone House grounds, the oven was designed by a firm in Maine and constructed by neighborhood volunteers. Harker supervises regular community baking events centered around the oven.

The finished breads and pastries were carried upstairs to be laid out for consumption in the house’s spare, but elegant, second floor. There was lots to eat, but that was only sensible considering the night’s focus would be the consumption of distilled spirits.

“Whiskeys have the most complex flavor of all the spirits,” explained culinary historian and mixologist Tonya Hopkins. “Here we have the old world and America and their various styles represented.”

Of the dozen or so distilleries arrayed for sampling, few would be familiar to any but the most dedicated consumer. Brands such as Jack Daniels or Old Grand Dad were conspicuous for their absence. Instead there was Talisker Single Malt, a scotch from the Isle of Skye’s only distillery, and Glenmorangie, which boasts the tallest stills in all of Scotland. Closer to home and a bit less exotic was Knob Creek Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

“In America barley doesn’t grow well, so we substitute corn, which gives us bourbon and a whole new set of flavors,” Hopkins explained.

Hopkins’s writings have included entries into the “Oxford Encyclopedia of Food & Drink in America” and the story of Ann Hampton Northrup, a free black woman who became an acclaimed chef in Saratoga Springs during the mid-19th century. Hopkins is the co-founder of the James Hemming Foundation, named after a slave who became America’s first classically trained Chef de Cuisine in France at the behest of his owner, Thomas Jefferson.

This night, she had a favorite whiskey: LA 1 Small Batch. Louisiana’s first whiskey.

“This one has a little of everything. It’s like an American melting pot,” she explained.

Guests arrived, quickly filling the 600-square-foot room.  

“Who has been to a whiskey tasting before?” Hopkins asked, prompting laughter all around. She offered some background on the varieties to be sampled and provided some tips on how to evaluate the various blends and single malts. In one corner a pianist played while the guests mingled and drank.

The Old Stone House is a reconstruction of the Vechte-Cortelyou House, originally built in 1699, later to play a key role in the 1776 Battle of Brooklyn during which 400 Marylanders held off a larger British force to enable the rest of the American Army to escape across the Gowanus marsh. Later the Brooklyn Baseball Club, aka the Brooklyn Dodgers, used the house as their headquarters.

The current Old Stone House, set in Washington Park, was reconstructed using materials from the original in 1933. It’s one of three NYC Historic House Trusts located in Brooklyn and is currently owned by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.


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