You might be familiar with the Herkimer Diamond, as in a double-terminated, transparent quartz crystal found most often found in ring settings. If you’re the adventurous type like we are, you don’t settle for a mere trip to Jared’s or Kay Jewelers. You take a six hour haul from Baltimore to Herkimer in beautiful upstate New York to nab that smoky quartz.
I asked TJ a few months back what she wanted to do for her birthday and her answer was to dig for her own treasures in the famous Herkimer mines. I’m an obliging man, in particular to my girlfriend, so that’s precisely what we did. We baked under the Herkimer sun for a few hours the first two days of our trip and we smashed up rock after rock, calling it “therapy.” In TJ’s case, she dug like a gopher with the gift of second sight while I tugged out mini boulders to clear her way. Being a newb to this action, it took me a while to find some actual crystals latched onto split-open calcite. My pantheon at one point gave me a knock upside the head from the universe for inadvertently tossing some god energy calcite to the side. By certain divine intervention, the next piece I smashed, lo, another calcite sample manifested with a split diamond. I’ve since offered the find to Ra and Anubis upon my dresser-altar. I’d also unearthed some ocean fossils which were a big hit amongst the Herkimer employees. TJ was the big winner, however, uncorking some actual diamonds deep in the dirt and through our relentless hammering. We’d both scored a lot of sparkly druzy pieces, which put us in a ripe mood for exploring the area’s liquid treasures.
Our trip was special for many reasons, not the least being a spectacular three-day stay at the Grand Colonial Bed and Breakfast inside the town of Herkimer. Itself a rare standout jewel in a weathered old town desperate for an all-around upgrade. TJ gave me a return obliging trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, then she took another one for the team at the Belgian-styled Ommegang Brewery. We imbibed New York-grown Moscato on the porch at the B&B, and we had a blissfully chill tasting at Pail Shop Vineyards. I grabbed a 12 mixed flavor pack of Saranac to bring home, itself an amusing story–though nowhere near as amusing as me busting the frames to my glasses after day two of digging, then putzing around with a dorky wad of black electrical tape holding them together.
The highlight of our regional alcohol excursions came with the discovery of DikinDurt Distillery. Perched on a hilly section a few miles on the outskirts of Herkimer, we were in a celebratory mood from TJ’s diamond score, and attracted by the roadside signs leading those thirstier than the average to some homemade moonshine. Like anyone else, no doubt, we snickered like high school kids, passing the name “DikinDurt” back and forth like we were getting one over on the principal of Herkimer High School. I wondered aloud if the proprietors had once dug for diamonds up their nethers to come up with such a riotous name. They do have a story to it, and I’ll leave it to you all to find out on your own while you nip on some of their Honey Buzz.
Old Smoky in Tennessee is, for many shine lovers, the one to beat, and those folks have an empire’s worth of whiskey tasting rooms you can lose yourself (especially your wallet) in. I’ll tell you something, though; Eric Boyer and Elizabeth Stack know what the heck they’re doing. They’re also some of the most down-to-earth folks either of us have ever met, inside a shine distillery or anywhere else. My biggest comment of the night came in the form of “This is a far cry from the old bootlegging days none of us were alive to attest to.”
We found DikinDurt after a schlep out to Utica and back for a satisfying drop into Babe’s at Harbor Point. Eric was entertaining family in his yard with a bonfire and without pause, he broke away to make us feel welcome. He had us swept into his homestead distillery as quickly as we’d arrived. In tow was his spirited (and spirit-filled), ginger-haired sister-in-law, who introduced herself as “Red.” Red might as well have a gold-plated nametag as DikinDurt’s CEO of Hospitality, she was so into promoting her family’s products. We readily trusted what we were served, seeing Red down sample shots with us and making sure we tried the distillery’s entire line. She and TJ became immediate friends and we were warmed twice over in a jiff from all of the samples. Red, of course, kept our guts hot by introducing us to mixer recipes you can find at DikinDurt’s website.
Though they were currently out of sellable bottles, Eric had us try DikinDurt’s oak, cinnamon and chili pepper answer to Fireball, Mohawk Valley Fire. Be your own judge, but I say DikinDurt wins out. Between the two of us, TJ and I took home blackberry and raspberry infused shine, as well the Toasted Maple shine (all ranging between 75-90 proof) and me being a bourbon fan, I was thrilled DikinDurt knocked a home run with their 85 proof, year aged, twice distilled bourbon. It became a mandatory addition to our booze-swelled take home bag. I even dug their corn-based “white lightning,” as we began to kick up a little party atmosphere notching a few “whewwwwwwww” impersonations in the key of George Jones.
The white lightning also came home with us a gift for my Pop as Eric, joined by Elizabeth, gave us a quick tour of the distilling area. We talked for an easy 10 minutes beyond the 20 we’d spent sampling shine. TJ and I were then invited to mark our home location on a United States map you can find behind the tasting bar, which DikinDurt uses to spotlight out-of-town visitors. We marveled at some of the markers planted by visitors who’d come from far out west. Eric asked me to snap a pic of Pop and I drinking on the white lighting and email it to him. You can’t help but appreciate people who not only take their craft seriously, they engage with their clientele to the point of making a long-term acquaintance.
Doing a little online recon, it’s nice to see DikinDurt has built itself a reputation locally and we were told by Eric and Elizabeth they’ve already outgrown their home-based operation. They look to possibly get off of their road lesser traveled and expand into the town of Herkimer itself. Who wouldn’t be coaxed by such a tongue-in-cheek, borderline raunchy name? Get your…ummm…. yeah, you know what I mean.
–Ray Van Horn, Jr.