Since we first met Harvest Spirits' Derek Grout, we've been impressed. Though he speaks calmly and deliberately, his passion for his products is apparent from word one. At the time, he was pounding the pavement to introduce CORE Vodka to New York City, and was still was experimenting with different balances of apple varieties for making this 100% Hudson Valley fruit-based spirit. This experimentation has paid off - the delicious, aromatic CORE has since (appropriately enough) won best in class for vodka at the 2009 New York Spirits Awards along with an array of other medals, and he hasn't stopped there. Since the release of this excellent spirit, his experimentation hasn't stopped - he's released aged apple spirits and mouthwatering pear brandy. Fiercely dedicated to working with other local growers, he's creating delicious products with a distinct sense of place. We contacted him recently to learn more.
DrinkUpNY: What got you started with distilling? How did you learn how to do it?
Derek Grout: My background is in graphic design and apple farming. I got started in distilling after taking a distilling seminar with Christian Carl GmbH [Germany's oldest distillery fabricator] in New Hampshire in 2005. It was there that I met the founders of Tuthilltown Distillers, Ralph and Brian, who were looking for apples to start making vodka. I formed Harvest Spirits in 2006 with a business partner, Thomas Crowell, who had a background in brewing. In 2007 we converted a cold storage room on my family's farm into New York's first "class D" Farm Distillery. We started selling our first product, Core Vodka, in 2008. The training in distilling largely came from Christian Carl.
DrinkUpNY: Are there any other distillers you look up to, or that you've learned a lot from?
Derek Grout: I am a great admirer of Chris Weld, at Berkshire Mountain Distillers. We have worked closely together since we've started and his guidance has lead to great improvements in our products over the years. His tireless dedication to the craft shows in the quality of his products. Also, Finger Lakes Distilling's Thomas McKenzie is an incredibly accomplished distiller. Everything he makes, especially his whiskey, is just great.
DrinkUpNY: Your company started out with a very strong sense of place through distilling local apples, and you work with other New York farmers to create other products like your Pear Brandy. Have you drawn any other inspiration from New York agriculture, or created anything else that is distinctly of New York?
Derek Grout: We just launched our Black Raspberry Core Vodka and later this year we're coming out with Peach Applejack. I think there are a lot of locally grown ingredients that could inspire new spirits, such as currants for cassis, cherries for kirsch, plums for slivovitz, hops for gin, honey and maple syrup for liqueurs, and of course local corn for bourbon.
Check back here for more Harvest Spirits releases - there are more incredible spirits on the New York horizon. But in the mean time, try some of these delicious cocktails developed by NYC mixologists:
Swoon Kitchen Bar, Hudson, NY
3 oz. Core Vodka, 1 oz. Campari, splash of lime. Shake with ice and strain in a chilled martini glass.
Thom Pitts, Dumbo General Store, Brooklyn, NY
1 oz. Core Vodka, 1 oz. Bison Grass vodka, 2 oz. Martinelli's sparkling apple cider
James Frederic Rose, Temple Bar, New York, NY
Muddle 6 fresh sage leaves, 4 slices of fresh apple, 2 oz. lemon juice, and 3 tsp. of fine sugar. Add 4 oz. of Core Vodka. Shake with ice and strain in a chilled martini glass. Garnish with slice of apple.
Cheers from DrinkUpNY!