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It is clear from the moment you meet Will and Dave Willis that they are passionate about what they do. What they do is make handcrafted, small batch spirits that draw on local distilling tradition while also experimenting with flavor profiles and technique. “We are trying to push the boundaries of what the spirits can do.” This adventuresome spirit Dave expresses is what led these two brothers to turn a decade-long hobby of stove-top distilling into a commercial venture with the launch of Bully Boy Distillers in June 2011.
Their passion for spirits and local production is rooted in their family heritage. They grew on a 4th-generation working farm in Sherborn, Massachusetts. In the basement of the farm house there is a bank vault with pre-prohibition era bottles of liquor (I’m hoping for a field trip some day). Even the name of their company has a family connection. “Bully” was a term popularized by Teddy Roosevelt, meaning superb or excellent; their great-grandfather was roommates with Roosevelt at Harvard and later named a beloved family horse Bully Boy after his friend. In their warehouse space in Boston, Will and Dave carry on a tradition of excellence by using local and organic ingredients whenever possible and lovingly caring for each step of the production from developing a unique mash bill for their whiskey to hand-sealing bottles. The end result is high quality products that are tasty to sip on their own, but also versatile for use in cocktails.
It is important to Will and Dave to be in Boston and have the support of the local cocktail community. One of the things they pride themselves on is being an urban distillery. Will explains, “We really wanted to be a brand that was associated with where we live. Each bottle is marked ‘handmade in Boston.’” Their white whiskey, white rum and vodka are indeed quickly becoming quite popular with the city’s bartenders who appreciate the availability of quality local products. To that point, Beau Sturm of Trina’s Starlite Lounge says, “Bully Boy is a great local product made by fantastic people who pour their heart into it.” His First Full of Dollars (recipe below) combines the white whiskey with the mildly bitter Amaro Montenegro resulting in a stiff, yet light cocktail. Over at Eastern Standard and Island Creek Oyster Bar you can also find a few cocktails featuring Bully Boy. Bob McCoy particularly likes their rum, “I think the rum is a standout. It’s both unique and assertive while still being accessible. It has the kind of flavor impact that can stand in for traditional dark rum-based cocktails but is also killer in a white rum classic like the Daiquiri.” And he does just that in his daiquiri variation, The Republic (recipe below).
So what’s next for Bully Boy? When I visited with Will and Dave I spied barrels filled with whiskey and rum that are their soon-to-be released new products—Boston Rum and an aged whiskey. I can’t wait. To local boys making delicious booze—Cheers!
First Full of Dollars (created by Beau Sturm, Trina’s Starlite Lounge)
1 oz Amaro Montenegro
2 oz Bully Boy White Whiskey
2 dashes orange bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled rocks glass with no ice or garnish
The Republic (created by Bob McCoy, Eastern Standard)
1½ oz. Bully Boy White Rum
¾ oz. spiced ginger syrup*
¾ oz. fresh lime juice
Mount in a mixing glass, add ice, and shake. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.
*Spiced Ginger Syrup
1½ cups demerara sugar
1 cup water
6 oz. fresh peeled and chopped ginger
½ tsp. each allspice, cardamom, and coriander
Toast the spices in a pan over medium-high heat until very aromatic, tossing frequently so not to burn. Add the water, sugar, and ginger. Bring to just under a boil, stirring frequently, then reduce and let simmer for 12-15 minutes. Take off the heat and let cool. Pour contents into a container, cover and store in the refrigerator overnight to infuse. Finely strain into a container, cover, and store in the refrigerator.