At first blush, Sono1420 is a welcoming bar/tasting room where locals gather to play board games, listen to music, and do other stuff that people do in bars, while sipping premium cocktails.
But the room behind the bar is the real party, a sort of Willy Wonka’s Liquor Factory, filled with large shiny steel machines, winding pipes, and twirls of tubing. Whole strawberries soak in vats of vodka for mixing and bottling as Strawberry Lemonade Haze. Lemon grass, cloves, coriander and other jarred spices await their invigoration of the gins with their terpenes.
Shelves of witty, colorful labels (“Peace Love High Proof Vodka”) include works by local artists (photographer Butch Quick, painter Joanie Landau and others).
Bottles of Blaze, their new cinnamon whisky, are lined up neatly on a metal table, and small bottles are prepped to be filled with their signature vodka, fresh cold-brewed espresso, and coffee liqueur for Threesomes. I’ll get back to these later.
The fun, relaxed vibe belies the seriousness of the craft. Since its opening, founder and co-owner Ted Dumbauld has won a slew of awards for his spirits, including two Double Gold medals in the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC) - the only distillery in Connecticut to do so.
Which isn’t so surprising, given that Ted is one of those smart-as-hell guys who dives headfirst into some of the country’s most impossible jobs.
After graduating from the Naval Academy, Ted was a nuclear submarine engineer for five years. His responsibilities included fixing the nuclear reactor and ensuring everyone didn’t drown. (One of Sono1420’s spirits is a “Navy Strength” Sindica Bangtail Gin. I imagine folks spending three straight months in a submarine would need that.)
Then he went to MIT for his MBA and landed on Wall Street in quantitative finance which, as you may know, is a wildly complex sector of finance. As one non-quant money executive describes, “It’s really difficult.”
Then, through a series of events, he turned to perfecting gin, vodka, and whisky.
This isn’t Ted first foray into distilling spirits, however. When his son, Teddy, was young, they enjoyed projects: tapping maple trees for syrup, keeping a beehive. Then Teddy suggested they whip up a batch of whisky.
So they threw a bunch of cornmeal and bread yeast together and “used a pressure cooker to jerry-rig a still.” The result was an undrinkable foul-smelling mess far left of their vision.
Today, obviously, his skill is far more researched and much improved.
Now back to Blaze and the Threesome Ready-to-Mix Espresso Martini, two of Sono1420’s more recent and popular potables.
In a brainstorm last fall, creating a grown-up version of the frat party stalwart, Fireball “Whisky”, was tossed into the discussion. If you’ve ever tried Fireball, you’ll remember it’s the sticky sweet shot (and where’s the whisky?) that burns the soft tissue of your throat and stomach moments before the alcohol level paralyzes your nervous system.
But the idea of a good cinnamon elixir? Absolutely. Ted, his partner, Ami-Lynn Bakshi, and master mixologist Blake Poon went to work, infusing a high quality four year-old bourbon with a mixture of cassia bark and Vietnamese cinnamons (one for scent, one for taste). In addition to being a delicious award-winning drink (“Best in Class” finalist and a Double Gold medal winner at the 2022 SFWSC), it also tastes great over ice cream and in recipes like pulled pork.
Right on its heels comes the Threesome Espresso Martini, with a margarita and a Negroni in the pipeline (“the cocktail has to have three equal parts,” Ted explains).
All you have to do is take off the top wrap, open each of the three bottles that come shrink-wrapped together and, all at once, pour it into a glass. Or, if you’re ambitious, pour into a cocktail shaker, shake with ice, and pour into a martini glass. It’s fresher than a pre-mixed martini and pours a single generous cocktail. Of course, they’re all Sono1420 spirits so it tastes fabulous.
The day after my tour I wandered into a liquor store for a bottle of Chardonnay. Next to the registers was - you guessed it - a bunch of Threesomes Espresso Martinis! Ever curious, I asked if they sold well. “Yes!” The woman enthusiastically replied, “We go through an entire case every week or two.”
Can’t wait for the margarita…