An Uprising in Rhode Island

Sons of Liberty distillery revives whiskey's rebellious spirit


No man went thirsty in Rhode Island during Prohibition, it was said, but the movement plainly made its mark even after repeal. For our local economy as well as craft devotees, the most unfortunate scar was the disappearance of Rhode Island’s many distilleries and breweries, some of them centuries old. (The 18th amendment effectively shuttered those outfits, and the 21st rudely failed to revive them.) More or less since, and rather tragically, Rhode Island’s wet crowd has been consigned to bathtub rotgut, character-less corporate schlock, and expensive imports.

Thankfully, Providence’s cocktail renaissance of the last decade has reinvigorated respect not just for good booze, but also novel spirits that carry good storylines. Of late, white whiskey – an unaged whiskey that’s essentially legal moonshine – seems to be the big story among cocktail mavens, harkening back to Prohibition’s illicit wares and springing up at venues across town.

Frankly, I’m ambivalent about the stuff. It’s a seductive concept, rebuking Britain’s whisky elite and celebrating America’s renegade roots. In practice, though, it’s routinely lackluster or even unpalatable, sending me back to tried-and-true aged whiskies.

For a whiskey that sits at a midway point between those two poles, there is Uprising, a young but not white whiskey from Sons of Liberty distillery in South Kingstown. Uprising is the brainchild of Narragansett native Mike Reppucci, who studied abroad in London and brought home a taste for Britain’s dark, bitter beers and Scotches. Not long after, he collaborated with a former Master Distiller at Maker’s Mark to develop something leagues apart from the frequently generic, corn-based bourbons that typify American whiskeys. Uprising is the totally idiosyncratic result, beginning on the palate like a blended whiskey and finishing with spicy, almost porter-like flavors that speak to its malted barley origins.

Local pride has been instrumental in the whiskey’s early success, earning it a place at more than 150 restaurants, bars and liquor stores since its debut a few months ago. For the home-drinking crowd, Reppucci recommends keeping things simple in one of two ways: a classic Manhattan, or over ice with a lemon twist.

Originally made with rye, a similarly spicy American whiskey, a Manhattan mixed with Uprising goes down easy but doesn’t distract with a mess of bells and whistles. Serving it on the rocks with a twist appeals more to whiskey purists, though that notoriously swaggering lot may balk at putting anything besides whiskey in their glasses. Reppucci advises it anyway, likening the preparation to a traditional espresso. His logic holds: Uprising has rich coffee undertones that brighten beautifully with a sliver of lemon peel tossed in.

Conceivably, for “emergencies,” it can also fill a flask.