Monday, May 9, 2011

Distilleries of New York: The Hudson Valley

Though the state was once home to hundreds of distillers, since Prohibition, New York's alcohol production had been mostly limited to wine and small amounts of fruit brandy. In the past several years, however, New York State has experienced a tremendous growth in craft distilling thanks in part to a 2002 change in licensing laws. It used to be that only tiny quantities of those fruit brandies could be made without an industrial-class license; today, small distillers are able to produce a wide range of artisinal spirits, limited only by volume. The Hudson Valley, with its fertile soil and abundance of small farms, is home to several young microdistilleries at the forefront of this regional movement.

Tuthilltown Spirits

Tuthilltown Spirits was New York's first whiskey distillery since Prohibition. In addition to their iconic whiskies like Baby Bourbon and Manhattan Rye, they also produce delicious Hudson Valley apple-based vodkas and an aged rum.

The still at Tuthilltown Spirits
For more than two centuries, the hydropowered Tuthilltown Gristmill had been grinding local grains to flour. Ralph Erenzo and Vicki Morgan acquired the Gardiner, NY property on which it is located in 2001. With the help of partner Brian Lee, they acquired a German pot still and converted one of the granaries into a distillery. Though Erenzo didn't have any prior experience with distilling, they took classes, learned quickly, and released their first apple vodka - made with scraps from a local apple processing plant - a mere two years later. In addition to their masterfully-crafted products, Tuthilltown also offers other small brands the opportunity to produce without their own equipment; many other new and small-batch brands making products like brandy, absinthe, eau-de-vie and liqueurs come to Gardiner to produce their spirits. The core of the operation is still essentially local: their apple vodka is made from fruit grown less than five miles away, and their whiskeys, from farms less than ten miles away.

Harvest Spirits

Based out of a New York apple farm, Harvest Spirits also started with an apple-based vodka. Founded as a collaboration in 2007 between brewer Tom Crowell and farmer-turned-web-designer-turned-distiller Derek Grout, Harvest Spirits was created in part to use excess fruit at Golden Harvest Farms. They start with this fruit, press it into apple cider, let it ferment, and then distill it three times to make Core Vodka.

We had the opportunity to try this spirit as distiller Derek Grout was experimenting with the proportions of apple subspecies; as their still can only produce 100 gallons at a time, he had the opportunity to experiment from batch to batch. Revealing the character of the local fruit, each batch we tasted had distinctive aromas and flavors unique to apples like Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, and Fuji. This distillery has since produced a wonderfully aromatic pear eau-de-vie (called, simply, “Pear”) and the refined Cornelius Applejack, both displaying the same care and craftsmanship as their original spirit.

Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery

Started in 1989, Warwick began life as an apple orchard. Like at Golden Harvest almost a decade later, an overabundance of fruit inspired experiments with fermentation. As the laws dictating alcohol production in New York were different at the time, they were, for many years, exclusively a licensed winery and hard cider producer starting in 1993.

They found success with Doc's Draft Hard Cider, and in 2001, received a grant to become the Hudson Valleys first microdistillery. They imported a German pot still, and in 2002, began producing their first spirits. Their line of fruit brandies and liqueurs, American Fruits, capture the vibrant aromas and flavors of Hudson Valley fruit at perfect ripeness. They're also responsible for the recently introduced Brooklyn Gin, reviving a long-retired brand from the early 1900s.

Honeymoon Cocktail

Also sometimes known as the "Farmer’s Daughter," this cocktail was first introduced in 1917 in Recipes for Mixed Drinks by Hugo R. Ennslin and was popularized at Hollywood's Brown Derby in the 1930s.

1 part orange curacao & Benedictine (half and half)
2 parts freshly squeezed lemon juice
8 parts Harvest Spirits “Cornelius” Applejack

Shake with cracked ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

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