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Farm-to-table is the craze across restaurant menus in New England. Some restaurants, such as Sarto in Providence and Fore Street Kitchen in Portland, Maine — even list the farms they work with.
But Manya Rubinstein, the founder and CEO of the Industrious Spirit Company (also known as ISCO), is pushing for farms to play a larger role in our food ecosystem — and one that goes beyond the plate.
The distillery recently relaunched its Blue Velvet Bourbon, which is created using 100 percent blue corn. It’s a blend of two special and distinct varieties: an organic strain of indigo developed in Kentucky and a landrace blue variety from Oaxaca, Mexico, Rubenstein recently explained to me. The corn is cooked and fermented, distilled in small batches, and then rests in charred new oak barrels for about six to 12 months.
The end result? An “intentionally youthful” tasting bourbon that boasts hints of caramel, vanilla, chocolate, and a note of blue corn tortillas.
The first batch of this bourbon ISCO created, in 2021, sold out in less than three hours. The head distillers immediately began working on the current batch, which is their second. Bottles can be found in some liquor stores, at the distillery to taste and purchase, and at select bars and restaurants in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Rubenstein, who introduced the world’s first-ever oyster-distilled vodka earlier this year, is already working up her next concoctions. One I found most interesting uses otto file, a type of corn which originated in New England and was cultivated by northeastern indigenous tribes for hundreds of years. The crop was imported to Italy and nearly became extinct in the US prior to World War II, explained Rubenstein. But the crop made its return in the last two decades, and now ISCO is looking to use otto file to create a new bourbon.
”We want to create a drinkable version of history,” said Rubenstein, who told me she wishes she could spend more time researching the history of other lesser-known grains.
Another project is in partnership with The Land Institute in Kansas, which has spent the last three decades developing the “Kernza” grain, a perennial crop developed from intermediate wheatgrass. It’s sustainable, even in a changing climate world, and Rubenstein said ISCO partnered with them to malt the grain and turn it into a whiskey. Though she declined to say when it would be ready. “We let the whiskey tell us when it’s ready,” said Rubenstein. Eventually, ISCO distillers will start creating new spirits that don’t use any grains at all.
”Our whole mission has really shaped into a space where we are producing innovative spirits that help tell these stories about grains and agriculture,” said Rubenstein. “Agriculture is a huge area where we can make an impact on the climate. It speaks to me the most. I love food, and the transformation that a talented person can have on this super beautiful bounty that we are blessed enough to have.”
She added, “Why not try it in this space too?”
If you have suggestions or need a recommendation, shoot me an email at Alexa.Gagosz@globe.com.
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