Certainly New York State’s Finger Lakes region sports a well-established heritage as a premium wine-producing area. But proximity to superb agricultural pre-cursors has lately sparked the birth of a number of interesting distilleries and breweries in the district. And Last Shot Distillery in Skaneateles, run by founder/co-owner/distiller/chef Chris Uyehara, is among the most intriguing of the pack.
After attending nearby Syracuse University for his culinary training, Uyehara returned to his native Hawaii and spent 37 years heading the kitchens of some of the islands’ top resorts and hotels, culminating in a run as an executive pastry chef of some reknown. He returned to his college stomping grounds (his wife, who is local, wanted to be closer to family) and started experimenting with distilling (albeit with a chef’s creative eye) as well as continuing cuisine and menu consulting in the area.
Uyehara started with some basic distilling equipment, and found that people liked what he was cooking. He went on to bootstrap in more hardware and source local ingredients, opening the doors to Last Shot Distillery, hidden away in the rolling farmland just north of tourist hotspot Skaneateles Lake, in 2015 in a former distillery that had been converted into a paper mill.
Today’s Last Shot’s small-batch wares include award-winning bourbons, unaged mash distillates, pure-corn “moonshine,” vodka, gin, and even some very sophisticated and well-balanced orange creme and chocolate creme brulee liquors based around his core spirits. He is also one of those rare distillers to work successfully with maple syrup.
The two versions of the maple product ($41), a drier unbarreled White Maple distillate and a Sweet Maple version with a touch of maple syrup added to the initial maple distillate and then briefly rested in charred oak, are not quite like anything I’ve ever tasted before. Using 100% New York State maple syrup (which, for the uninitiated, can stand toe to toe with the best from Vermont or Canada), Uyehara told us that it is a difficult source to distill with, owing to the complex nature of the natural sugars.
But the process reduces the rich syrup back to its botanical flavor profile a bit, delivering a unique reedy-sweet product with a touch of welcome tequila-ish funk to it. This gives way to a resoundingly subtle sweet maple-y carpet with a soft finish (the Sweet Maple is bottled at 70 proof). They are really outstanding, begging contemplative sipping, and in my case, a future of cocktail experimentation.
So, what’s next for Uyehara? He told us that he is delving into his own Japanese-Hawaiian family’s distilling traditions. “My mother Yoshi used to make a home-brew rum with slightly refined turbinado sugar and pineapples with a jerry-rigged wok-still,” he remembers. The innovative distiller has been playing around with that recipe, which might well become the latest shot from Last Shot.
Uyehara’s products are available widely in the Finger Lakes or online here, but currently, many offerings sell out quickly. Don’t miss your Last Shot!