If it comes to craft alcohol in Oakland Park, Fl., it starts and ends for most people at Funky Buddha. But they’re not alone, not anymore.
For the past few years, down a tiny alleyway south on N. Dixie Highway, sits Chainbridge Distillery. And while it is easy to assume the name is a gentle nod to a bridge somewhere in nearby Ft. Lauderdale, not so. Its namesake is the Széchenyi Lánchíd in Budapest, bridging the two sides of the Hungarian capital. The lions that flank the entrances onto the bridge feature on their logo.
Dive further into the distillery, and even more Hungarian culture will come fast.
The distillery is the brainchild of Béla Náhori, born in Hungary and until recently living in Ohio and working as an accountant. The distilling runs deep in his family, and the recipes being made at ChainBridge originate with his maternal grandfather.
It was his mother, Agnes, that pushed Béla to do something with her father’s recipes and his brewing background. So the decision was made to leave Ohio and migrate south to South Florida, where Béla’s sister Monika had already put down roots.
What followed was 3 years of construction, paperwork, and headaches. At the end, in May of 2019, ChainBridge finally opened their distilling operation.
That distilling focused on pálinka, a fruit brandy with origins in the Middle Ages. The traditional pálinka recipe calls for fruit juices and nothing else, fermented and distilled to a proof of at least 75.
Pálinka also requires the distillation to be done in Hungary. Because of this, and other appelation issues, the liquors made at ChainBridge are labeled as ‘Fruit Brandies.’
At this time, their Fruit Brandies include a Plum Brandy made with 12 lbs. of plums per bottle. This amazing spirit has a soft, dark fruity aroma and a crisp, amazingly clean and snappy taste. There’s also a Blueberry Brandy with a soft aroma, but opens up with bright berry flavors that take the essence of the sweetness and leaves behind a bold, deep berry quality.
The one that shocked me was the Banana Brandy, with an aroma a touch reminiscent of plantains and a flavor that deftly sidesteps hallmarks of a sweetened, mass-produced schnapps. This is more of a light touch, a fresh banana quality that lingers only slightly, and carries none of the excessive sugary qualities of going overboard.
They also carry spirits made from vegetables, as well. Spirits, not brandies. As Béla told us, the Feds require brandies to be made entirely from fruit. Veggies don’t count, so they get lumped into the ‘other’ category of general ‘Spirits.’
The Beet Spirit was of particular interest, especially since a full 25 lbs. of beets are used for each bottle. If you love beets, you have found your new spirit. It carries strong vegetative and earthy notes, with the dark and bold aroma that is unmistakably beet.
There was also a Carrot Spirit, made with organic Bolthouse carrots. This one surprised me, since there’s only a light carrot aroma, but a noticeable flavor that brings the sweetness inherent in carrots forward. It leaves a lot of the floral and grassy notes behind.
There are others, though. The vodkas are of particular note, since they are made with straight sugar cane. This leaves the spirit with a clean, slightly sweet flavor that lingers on the tongue just slightly.
There’s also a Florida Basil vodka made with basil from nearby Davie. This is ChainBridge’s top seller, and for good reason. The aroma comes with a fresh punch of basil right off the plant, and the flavor practically envelops you with amazing herbal qualities. This is a killer in a Bloody Mary, or even just straight. It’s a spirit I can see being incredibly useful in the hands of a master mixologist.
There are rums as well, and now we start to have fun. Their white rum is available now, and has a perfectly neat flavor and smooth delivery, perfect for drinking neat as there is no harshness at all.
Then Béla gave us a few sneak previews. One was their golden rum, currently aging in a level 3 char virgin oak barrel from Kentucky. It’s already picked up a lot of the color and woody flavors, and the more mature vanilla flavors are just starting to appear.
The other was a rum aged on sour cherries and citrus rinds. It’s very much like an Old Fashioned, just with rum. While what we sampled was overproofed and needed more time to mature, it’s one of the best spirits I’ve had in Florida, much less globally.
The cherries bring a beautiful candy-like quality the rum picks up immediately. The citrus comes in from behind and zaps those cherries just enough to brighten them, then steps back to allow the residual cherry sweetness to carry the aftertaste. Absolute perfection, and I can’t wait for this to be bottled.
Béla and his family have most definitely found a new home to honor their old traditions, and Oakland Park’s Culinary Arts District is the better for it. More is coming, including a line of gins, but there’s no need to wait. You can head there now and get a solid lineup of amazing spirits.
With spirits like these, who needs beer?
Drink Florida Craft,
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