Local Profile: Montauk Hard Label

“Tauk” About a Local Whiskey

Tommy Ciccariello and Mike Demasco are Montauk to the bone, and when Skylar Gardell arrived almost 20 years ago, a trio was formed that has since formed spirits inspired by the spirit of Montauk. Tommy gives HM the back story:

Give us a bit on your background: you three (Skylar, Thomas, Mike) are true Montauk natives, correct? How did you all meet, and how did the concept of a Montauk-born whiskey come to be? Were you guys chatting about the idea for years or what?

Mike Demasco and I are born and raised Montauk locals who have known each other since childhood. Skylar Gardell had been coming out for summers his whole life and moved out full time in 2001. We all immediately became friends and all worked together after Skylar’s family purchased what is now 668 The Gig Shack.

The original idea was Skylar’s. He brought up how he wanted to create a liquor company back in 2013 and came to Mike and me to see what we thought of it and we immediately knew this was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up!

Skylar and I have both been bartending for over 10 years in Montauk, so the idea of being able to serve our own liquor to customers was awesome. Together, the three of us went ahead to see what it took to start our own brand.

Is your whiskey actually brewed in Montauk, or where are your facilities exactly? Is there something about the ingredients that is especially connected to MTK?

Once we realized that we wanted to pursue this, we sought out a distillery that could produce us both an American whiskey and a flavored whiskey that we could call our own. We came across a small family run distillery in Florida that we could work closely with to develop a signature, proprietary formula that we could take with us when we found a distillery closer to home. Our dream is to one day have our own tasting room somewhere in Montauk, with a small still to create and test new flavors.

Along with the initial three-year-aged whiskey, we knew we wanted to introduce a new flavored whiskey that had never been done before. Originally, we were playing with the idea of doing a blackberry whiskey because of the wild blackberries that grow in Montauk, but also had a few other flavor samples created as well. From the moment we pulled the cork of the first sample bottle of the blueberry whiskey [we knew] that this was it. The aroma was incredible, and after thorough “testing”, we realized that no matter what cocktail we made with the blueberry whiskey, it was going to turn out delicious.

Can you list some of the cocktails that are most righteously made with Montauk Hard Label whiskey?

Our go-to signature cocktail and best seller at 668 The Gig Shack is a Blueberry Hard Label Lemonade. You take two ounces of blueberry whiskey with six ounces of your favorite lemonade, shake with ice and enjoy.

Want to try a twist on a classic? Add some MHL blueberry whiskey to an Aperol Spritz to completely amp up your brunch. The crew down at Westlake Fish house do it perfectly. Fan of Old Fashioned’s? Muddle sugar and bitters, add blueberry whiskey over ice and stir, and you’re set. Frozen drinks can be blueberry-ed as well. Liar’s Saloon is amping up their famous mudslides by making a blueberry mudslide.

We have yet to find a drink that doesn’t benefit from substituting the blueberry whiskey in it. One of the most exciting things is when we’re behind the bar and a customer comes shares their own amazing recipe and we make it up on the spot and try it!

Have you tried pairing your whiskey with any particular foods? Give us a breakdown of how we’d combine your whiskey with a fine dinner, whether it be served straight, in a special cocktail or otherwise.

Any fine dinner can be started with Montauk Hard Label blueberry whiskey on the rocks.

How about with a burger or a slice of pizza?

My ideal pairing of Montauk Hard Label Whiskey would consist of friends and family at a backyard BBQ on a late September afternoon drinking Blueberry whiskey with iced tea and fresh lemon while a brisket is smoking. After the feast, the crew can indulge in some blueberry peach cobbler topped with blueberry whiskey ice cream. Finish the evening off just after dusk pouring some aged Montauk Hard Label over ice and watch the stars come out and call it a night.

That in fact inspires another thought: have you ever tried cooking with your whiskey? Any recipes you’d recommend that we try to mix Hard Label into?

One of the chef’s at the Gig Shack created an amazing blueberry whiskey BBQ sauce. You could put it on a flip flop and it would taste great.

A friend created a Montauk Hard Label Blueberry Lemonade ice cream which turned out spectacular! It would be the perfect end to any meal.

We know you serve MTK Hard Label at 668 The Gig Shack (Skylar’s restaurant), but what other taverns and eateries serve your product? Is it only available on the East End, or can we find it in NYC?

So far we have stayed home on the East End. We started small, distributing ourselves, and have had amazing support from the restaurant and bar community in Montauk. It’s been humbling how supportive the town of Montauk has been to us. We wouldn’t be able to be where we are without the help of this town and all the people in it.

You can find Montauk Hard Label at Shagwong, The Point, Memory Motel, Muse at the End, Liar’s Saloon, The Sloppy Tuna, The Salt Box, Westlake Fish House, The Tauk @ Trails End, The Harvest, East by Northeast, Topside at Gosmans, Salivars, Inlet Seafood, Whites Liquors, and Finest Kind. West of the stretch you can find us at Atlantic Wines and Liquors and Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett, Townline BBQ in Sagaponack, Sag Harbor Liquor Store, Greenport Wines & Spirits, Pete’s Pit in Massapequa, and Hartley’s in Brooklyn.

We hope to expand our brand west in the near future!

You have Original and Blueberry Whiskeys available. What’s next? Can you give us an idea of the next type of spirit you’ll be rolling out?

We have a lot of ideas in the works, and the fun has just begun. We will be testing and re-testing plenty of new flavors and products to bring something that Montauk, and perhaps the world, has never seen before!