Friday, May 27, 2011

Distilleries of New York: The Finger Lakes & Westchester

New York State is experiencing a glorious resurgence in distillation, and we're celebrating. The Finger Lakes is New York's most prolific wine producing region, and is particularly appreciated for Rieslings and other whites; the climactic effects of the lakes make the area particularly hospitable to viticulture, and the chillier temperatures keep acidity lively. But off this same cluster of oddly-shaped lakes, inspired by the region's bacchanalian pedigree, two distilleries have set up shop to shift the area's production to something a bit harder.
Thomas Earl McKenzie & Brian McKenzie of FLD

The appropriately named Finger Lakes Distilling Company is a young upstart with serious ambition. It was founded by Brian McKenzie and Thomas Earl McKenzie - no relation - who met at a distiller's conference back in 2007. Brian had a background in finance, and Thomas had held a broad range of experience with wine, beer, and spirits making. They set up shop along the Seneca Wine Trail, amongst the 40 plus wineries around the lake. They've been producing for a relatively short time, but they've already created a diverse portfolio of spirits with McKenzie Bourbon and Rye Whiskies, Seneca Drums Gin, Glen Thunder Corn Whiskey, and a range of grappas and liqueurs.

Over at Cayuga lake, Hidden Marsh Distillery was the first Finger Lakes microdistillery. An offshoot from Montezuma winery, this is a slick project from a more traditional wine, mead, and fruit wine maker. Their flagship product, Bee Vodka, is thrice-batch distilled from New York State honey, resulting in a flavorful and satisfying spirit that has tons more personality than most vodkas. Additionally, their master distiller makes a range of brandies and liqueurs. Located along the Cayuga Lake Trail just across from the Montezuma Wildlife Preserve, this distillery would be a great one to visit on a winery tour.

Heading southeast several hours to Westchester, this area's one robust distilling industry went dry after Prohibition. In some accounts, the town of Elmsford is even credited with the invention of the cocktail at a local watering hole, but it was only when a Port Chester bond trader lost his job to the recession that the area started making spirits again. StilltheOne Distillery is named for founder Ed Tiedge's long-lasting marriage to his wife Laura, rather than the song, and the two teamed up during the downturn to start making spirits from honey. Though he didn't have a background in distillation, Ed studied in Cognac to learn the trade, and relied on his wife's help to get the project off the ground. Since they started distilling in 2010, however, they've already made incredible progress. As of today, they’ve crafted several spirits: Comb Vodka, Comb9 Gin, and a spirit that shows Ed’s experience with Cognac, Comb Brandy.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

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