Category Archives: Distillers

New Columbia County distillery to open Sept. 1

(L-R) Baker, Pickerell, Welly

ANCRAM — Last November, I posted a story and photos of a distillery being created near this Columbia County community. Now, owner Jeffrey Baker and master distiller Dave Pickerell have announced a September 1 opening.

On that day, Hillrock Estate Distillery will be open to the public as well as introducing the launch of Hillrock Solera Aged Bourbon.

While there are other distilleries in the Hudson Valley, Hillrock is different in that it is a “field-to-glass” facility. In fact, it is believed to be the first post-Prohibition U.S. distillery to floor malt and hand craft whiskey onsite from its own estate-grown grain.

“I approached the craft spirits movement from a farming perspective, looking to create premier whiskies that reflect the local terroir, in the tradition of great estate vineyards,” Baker said.

“After research, I found that there were no truly field-to-glass distillery operations in the United States hand crafting spirits with grain grown and floor malted on the estate. That’s when I reached out to Dave Pickerell to realize our vision.”

Pickerell, former master distiller for Maker’s Mark and now a consulting master distiller for numerous craft distilleries, has been working with Timothy Welly, distiller and operations manager.

“By controlling every aspect of production from planting and harvesting heirloom grains, to traditionally floor malting our grain, to crafting whiskies in our 250-gallon copper pot still, to aging in small oak barrels and hand bottling, we are able to create premium whiskies reflecting the unique terroir of the Hillrock Estate,” Pickerell said.

Hillrock Estate Distillery will open for reserved weekend tours and tastings beginning September 15. Reservations can be made via e-mail or via the website.

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Posted by on August 23, 2012 in Distillers, Hudson Valley


Tuthilltown Spirits creates new locally-sourced gin

GARDINER — Tuthilltown Spirits, the Ulster County craft distiller, has yet another new product to add to its extensive portfolio. This one is Half Moon Orchard Gin, due out in August.

Says founder Ralph Erenzo, “This is not your typical gin. The base spirit is made using locally grown apples and wheat, and the citrus and herbs are perfectly proportioned. Thank you to distiller Joel Elder for creating this incredible recipe.”

In other Tuthilltown activities:

• Experts from the distillery will lead a spirit-pairing dinner at the Culinary Institiute of America in Hyde Park at 6 p.m. Wednesday, August 22. Reservations are $65 plus tax and tip. Phone: (845) 471-6608 or go online. The event is part of the ongoing celebration of the American Bounty Restaurant’s 30th anniversary at the CIA.

• Author Sandor Katz will be at the distillery’s tasting room at 6 p.m. Tuesday, August 7, to speak and sign copies of his latest book, “The Art of Fermentation,” which will be available for sale. Tuthilltown Spirits is located at 14 Gristmill Lane in this Ulster County community.

• Tuthilltown will be debuting a cocktail specially created for a 5 p.m. Wednesday, August 18, cocktail party fundraiser for the Gardiner Library. The fundraiser, which will feature a live auction and food from Main Course and Cafe Mio will be held at the Maplestone Inn, 541 Route 32, New Paltz. Tickets are $50 each and may be made by calling (845) 255-1255 or by going online.

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Posted by on July 12, 2012 in Distillers, Fundraiser, Gin


Analysis: Craft distilling going nowhere but up

Anyone who has been paying attention knows the craft distillery movement in America is on the upswing.

The question is, how far is up?

According to industry figures, there were 234 producing distilleries at the end of 2011, with more scheduled to come on line this year. A market analysis just released by Coppersea Distilling LLC, projects the industry will grow more than 300% over the next decade.

“Should current growth trends continue, the number of U.S. craft distillers will certainly grow to over 1,000,” said Michael Kinstlick, CEO of Coppersea Distilling, located in West Park, Ulster County. “Craft distilling is following the lead of the farm winery and craft brewery industries, which have both grown to support thousands of small firms.”

To show the continued upward spiking of new firms, there were only a total of 24 in 2000. By contrast 50 new firms opened in 2011 alone.

“The tremendous activity and excitement in craft distilling has been increasing year-by-year,” said Bill Owens, president of the American Distilling Institute. “Customers are looking to smaller producers for unique and more authentic spirits. Clearly, American craft distillers are only getting started, and this paper points to how far they can go.”

Frank Coleman, senior vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS), said, “The rapid growth of craft distilling in the U.S. market in many ways reflects both the recent modernization of the supplier tier and an important grassroots development in the public policy arena. The Council recognized this trend by creating a Craft Distiller Affiliate Membership program, which has grown from 12 founding members to almost 60 in two years. This paper provides important perspective on this fast-moving segment of the spirits industry.”

Craft distillers operate in 45 states. The complete “white paper” from Coppersea Distilling can be downloaded here.

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Posted by on April 7, 2012 in Analysis/Survey, Distillers


Brooklyn breaking out in rum fever

From Courier Life’s Brooklyn Daily

Rum makers are popping up in Red Hook faster than you can scream, “Yo-ho-ho!”

In the past three weeks, two small-batch rum distilleries have begun bottling organic sugarcane-based hooch that’s tasty enough to make Captain Morgan switch labels.

One distillery belongs to Daric Schlesselman — a Comedy Central editor-cum-booze buff — who crafts his vanilla-noted liquor using fair trade, unprocessed sugar at his Van Brunt Stillhouse. Schlesselman distills the elixir — dubbed Due North Rum ($35), which is not yet for sale — at a low temperature to create a light but full bodied flavor.

[Go here for the rest of the story.]

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Posted by on April 7, 2012 in Distillers, Rum, Spirits


Tuthilltown reaches new gin base

GARDINER — Tuthilltown Spirts is launching a new gin with a definitely different twist.

The average gin is distilled from some sort of grain then infused with a combination of botanicals. The Ulster County distiller — the state’s first licensed operation since Prohibition — has, instead, created Half Moon Orchard Gin from a base of wheat and apples. It is believed to be the first in the state to do so.

Half Moon Gin, named for the ship captained by explorer Henry Hudson when he chanced upon the river that now bears his name, differs from the usual gin making approach by changing the base spirit itself.

Says chief distiller Joel Elder, “We’re in the heart of the American apple industry, so it’s natural for us to turn to apples to create an original New York gin. Gin has become a battle of the botanicals, with more and more complicated recipes making use of obscure flavors that get lost in the mix. We chose to keep our botanical bill small and focus attention on the base spirit which makes up most of the gin, using the botanicals to complement and enhance the delicate flavors inherent in the base.”

The new product is being released regionally this spring, with wider distribution being considered for later in the year.

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Posted by on April 6, 2012 in Distillers, Gin, Spirits


Expanded distillery courses at Warwick Valley

WARWICK — The distillery segment of Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery is catching on with the pubic.

In fact, in addition to its fourth distillery demonstration and tasting series scheduled for February, Warwick has added an intermediate course in March for those who have taken the introductory series.

Every Saturday in February, master distiller Jason Grizzanti will walk the group through the distillery setup, explaining the process of making spirits, followed by a tasting session and lunch.

Every Saturday in March, Grizzanti will hold will an intermediate course that includes hands-on activities plus a guided whiskey tasting.

The introductory course fee is $50, the intermediate course fee $60, or admission to both can be purchased for $100, using coupon code DEMOPROMO during checkout. The intermediate course is limited to 15 people.

Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery, which makes fruit brandies and liqueurs under the American Fruits brand, is located at 114 Little York Road in Warwick, Orange County. Phone: (845) 258-4858.

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Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Classes, Distillers


A porkalypse coming to the Big Apple

NEW YORK — The 3rd annual Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival, promising 60 beers and 40 bourbons, is planned for Saturday, January 28, at LA.Venue, 608 West 28th Street.

The all-you-care-to-taste event will be divided into two sessions: The Bacon Session, from noon to 4 p.m., and the Whole Hog Session, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Ticket holders will receive a souvenir glass.

Seminars from master distillers, master brewers and pitmasters will provide the tastings along with Southern cuisine. A Tasting Theater will feature tasting classes and seminars on various topics. To date, Harlen Wheatley, master distiller for Buffalo Trace, Chris Mattera, master butcher from Sausage Craft, Gable Erenzo, master distiller for Tuthilltown Spirits, Rob Robillard, master distiller for Cabin Fever Maple Whiskey, pitmaster Bill Eason from Lil’ Red Pig in North Carolina, and pitmaster Steve Klobitis of Kloby’s Smokehouse in Maryland, as well as brand ambassadors from Angel’s Envy and Makers Mark are scheduled to speak.

Live bluegrass music also will be presented, and exhibits of such things as hot sauces, BBQ sauces, brewerania and other food items are planned.

Ticket details are available online, or by calling (800) 830-3976.

This is the first such event of 2012 sponsored by the Trigger Agency. Others are coming to Atlanta (March 3), Timonium, MD (March 23-24), Charlotte, NC (May 12), Richmond, VA (June 9), National Harbor, MD (June 15-16), Cary, NC (August 3-4), Nashville, TN (November 3). Details on those also are available online.

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Posted by on December 20, 2011 in Beer Event, Cuisine, Distillers


NYS craft distillery scene keeps growing

Several weeks ago I posted a story and photos on the first run of spirits being made at the state’s newest distillery, Highrock Estates, in Ancram, Columbia County.

As further examples of how fast the craft distilling business is growing in New York, the Albany Times Union‘s Steve Barnes has since posted stories on two Capital Region distilleries in development.

One is Saratoga Distilleries, being built in Galway, Saratoga County, by sibling lawyers Rich and David DeVall. You can read his report on that project here.

The other is the Albany Distilling Company, the brainchild of partners John Curtin and Matthew Jager, to be located in a building adjacent to the Albany Pump Station. That story is here.

Expect the trend to continue. Thanks to a 2007 state law that allows farm wineries — establishments using at least 51% of New York-produced products in its process — to make and sell spirits, more and more farms that had limited themselves to growing fruits and, in many cases, making wines from them are adding distilling facilities.

In addition, a bill before the U.S. House of Representatives (“The Equal Tax Act,” or H.R. 777) calls for federal tax cuts to small distilleries, which would make it easier for them to compete in the market, buy local materials, and grow their businesses. That’s the same sort of legislation that acted as a strong catalyst to expansion of the microbrewery movement nationwide.

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Posted by on December 13, 2011 in Distillers


Year after near-fatal crash, NY distiller reflects

Ralph Erenzo (right), co-founder with Brian Lee, co-founders of Tuthilltown Spirits in Gardiner, Ulster County, was in a near-fatal auto accident in December that has required a long recuperation period. Here is an update on his situation, in Ralph’s own words.


It’s been nearly a year since my little run-in with an inhospitable maple and its companion boulder on the way home just before Christmas. The doctors told me the recovery, miraculous as it is, would take another year or so. In spite of the extensive injuries, after some time in rehabilitation I’m walking and talking and can’t wait to get out on the road again to see you all.

I’m nothing short of amazed at the skill and compassion of the doctors and especially the nurses at Albany Medical Center who brought me back from the brink more than once.

Toward the end of my stay in [the intensive care unit], my family introduced me to the blog they’d kept and, to my great surprise, the “comments” section of the page where they‘d posted comments by a host of supporters and well-wishers. I was amazed to read letters from all of you, many of whom I had not met, along with fans of the distillery.

I learned some important lessons about life as each comment reminded me over and over how much I did not know. I didn’t know the most valuable lesson of all, we all have a much deeper affect on people than we know. I was moved by how many people cared about my situation, people I knew and many whom I have not met.

My life is a much richer experience as a result of my accident and my close pass at the it’s possible end. I’m blessed to have survived and to learn this valuable lesson.

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

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Posted by on November 25, 2011 in Distillers


• Striking gold in Columbia County

Distiller Tim Welly adjusts a valve on the new still at Hillrock Estates Distillery.

ANCRAM — The newest distillery in New York State ran off its first batch of whiskey Tuesday, a single malt made from grain grown on Hillrock Farms, home of what will become Hillrock Estates Distillery spirits. The event came about two weeks later than planned, delayed until power was restored to this storm-ravaged area.

With master distiller Dave Pickerell guiding the operation, he and Hillrock owner Jeff Baker and distiller Tim Welly tweaked the new Pickerell-designed still to achieve the desired alcohol level that quickly resulted in a run of full-flavored white spirit that will be put into new wood barrels later in the week, thus beginning the maturation process.

As I wandered about, photographing the day’s activities, I couldn’t help but compare the tableau to one several weeks ago when Pickerell headed up a distilling session I attended at George Washington’s rebuilt Mount Vernon, VA, distillery.

As I observed then, in the circa-1799 distillery “The air was a thick stew of humidity, dust motes, cool water, fruit flies and the occasional spark from kindling wood being stoked in the brick ovens below the copper pot stills.”

Distillery owner Jeff Baker checks the process.

Here, in a state-of-the-art facility that came to fruition in less than a year from concept to equipment installation, a lonely honeybee was the only intruder.

A cool breeze wafted through the pastel-walled interior, mixing with the sweet familiar smell of fermenting grain; hoses, gaskets and metal fermentation tanks smacking of modern technology; gleaming copper and polished brass shining on the two-story still and the adjacent mash tun made to order at the Vendome Copper & Brass Works in Louisville, KY. It’s an apparatus that is a thing of beauty as stills go.

“Jeff told me he wanted the best design he could get,” Pickerell explained, “then when it was finished he said ‘Now make it pretty.’ I think we did.”

Despite the modern technological rendering of an age-old process, it still has all the appearances of wizardry and magic when the clear distillate trickles from the still into the receiving container.

“It is a kind of magic, isn’t it?” said Pickerell. “I like to tell people I’m a modern alchemist. I turn grain into gold.”

Dave Pickerell adds milled grain to the mash tun.

The distillery was the dream of Baker, an executive managing director of Savills LLC, a New York City real estate investment banking firm. In a 25-year career, he completed more than $12 billion in transactions for such clients as Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley and Price Waterhouse.

Baker obviously thinks big in all things.

He purchased this 100-acre Columbia County farm, and a nearby 100-acre plot, a decade ago and has been biding his time as the land rebounded from chemicals used by prior owners.

He now has an eye on having his farm certified organic, part of his support of the farm-to-table movement that has taken hold in the Hudson Valley.

He had a colonial-style house dismantled and transported from Washington County to be reassembled on a hilltop here.

He is planning to make the distillery visitor-friendly in the foreseeable future, with the ability to host 40-person dinners, as well as offering an outdoor patio, a tasting room, and an interior replete with colonial-style lamps such as those he already has suspended over the new still.

“I’m not sure exactly when we’ll open to the public,” Baker said, “but we’re not too far away from completing the interior rooms.”

Go here for a photo album of the day’s scenes.

An adjacent malt house is under construction and should be completed by about year’s end. That will allow Hillrock to handle its own grain malting rather than having it done off-premises as is the current arrangement. Once that is done, it will mean a fully on-premises field-to-bottle operation.

Welly, who had been cellar master at Millbrook Winery in Dutchess County before joining Hillrock this year, is head of operations and the distiller now, with Pickerell as the consultant. He’s a veteran of the restaurant and wine industry in sales, distribution and as a buyer. As part of the transition to distilling, he has been working under Pickerell and right up to the last minute today was busily making notes on a yellow legal pad seldom far from his reach.

Pickerell, an industry superstar and former Maker’s Mark master distiller, has a busy consulting business with craft distilleries around the country, juggling 20 of them right now. The former Army officer and West Point faculty member is the managing member and senior consultant with Oak View Consulting in Mt. Washington, KY.

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• HPNOTIQ’s new offshoot no shy violet

Chalk up another entry in the “Why Do They Spell It That Way?” column.

HPNOTIQ, the liqueur from Heaven Hill Distilleries, is in the midst of a nationwide launch of a new version, called Harmonie. It is a mixture of French vodka, natural fruits, flowers, and Cognac, which results in a violet color compared to HPNOTIQ’s vivid blue hue. The distiller recommends it as a cocktail ingredient, although it’s not bad straight on the rocks.

Suggested retail price: $22.99 for the 750ml size. Also available in 1 Liter, 375ml, and 50ml sizes.

Heaven Hill Distilleries knows a thing or two about liquers/apertitifs. Included in its portolio are PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur and Dubonnet.

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Posted by on June 13, 2011 in Distillers, Liqueurs


• Finger Lakes/Brooklyn pickling connection

The Mackenzie boys at Finger Lakes Distilling like to branch out. In addition to their numerous spirits, they have been working with Brooklyn Brine to create a line of food products sold at their Schuyler County facility.

The first product was Whiskey Sour Pickles. Now, the two companies have teamed up to create Whiskey Barrel Sauerkraut.

Brooklyn Brine, which creates a variety of products using produce from New York State growers, ferments hand-cut cabbage with lemons and spices in Finger Lakes Distilling oak whiskey barrels. The finished product has gone on sale at the distillery gift shop for $9. The products also are available at Brooklyn Brine’s online store.


Finger Lakes Distilling, located in the town of Burdett, is owned by Brian McKenzie and Thomas Earl McKenzie — related only through business.

In addition to the new food product, they also announced they have named Glenn Grottenthaler “tasting room captain.” He has been working at the tasting bar since it opened in July of last year and is leading the tasting room team.

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• Pasta on Beverge Trail’s Saturday menu

The Hudson Berkshire Beverage Trail, which winds through New York and Massachusetts, will hold a pasta and sauce event this Saturday, the first group event of the year.

The Trail is tucked between the Hudson River and the Berkshire Mountains, extending from southeast of Albany to Germantown, eastward to Richmond, MA, and features wineries, a brewery and a distillery, many of which also feature locally-produced food items.

The Saturday event will run from noon to 5 p.m. A Trail Passport is $15 per person ($5 for a designated driver), and includes beverage and pasta tastings at all the participating establishments. Passports will be available on the day of the event at each venue.

Participating Trail members include Brookview Station Winery at Goold Orchards in Castleton, Chatham Brewing in Chatham, Harvest Spirits at Golden Harvest Farm in Valatie, Hudson-Chatham Winery in Ghent, Tousey Winery in Germantown, and Furnace Brook Winery in Richmond, MA. The only Trail member not involved in this event is Les Trois Emme Vineyard & Winery in New Marlborough, MA.

Check out my New York Drinks Events Calendar, the most comprehensive you’ll find anywhere.


• Columbia Co. distiller expanding line

Photo by Bill Dowd

VALATIE, NY — The micro-distillery movement in New York State is up to 15 locations, with several more in the planning and licensing stages. And, some of those already open are preparing to go well beyond their initial products.

Harvest Spirits, located at the Golden Harvest Farm in this Columbia County town, is a perfect example. The Route 9 apple grower now produces Core Vodka, Cornelius Applejack, Pear Brandy and Apple Brandy with several more products in the works.

Collin McConville, one of the distillers, says Harvest Spirits is working on another version of the Cornelius Applejack as well as a grappa — an Italian grape-based spirit that Harvest Spirits is combining with sweet cider; himbeer geist — a German spirit using apples and black raspberries, and Rare Pear, a 100-proof, oak-aged spirit made from the distillery’s whole fruit pear brandy.

The distillery, McConville said, came about as a means of using up Golden Harvest Farm’s apple crop, and its line of spirits is based almost entirely on fruits grown on its acreage.

Harvest Spirits is a member of the fledgling New York Craft Distillers Guild, along with Castle Spirits (Monroe), Delaware Phoenix Distillery (Walton), Finger Lakes Distilling (Elmira), Hidden Marsh Distillery (Seneca Falls), Knapp Vineyards (Romulus), Lake Placid Spirits (Lake Placid), Long Island Spirits (Baiting Hollow), Spirits by Battistella (Ithaca), StillTheOne (Port Chester), Swedish Hill Winery (Romulus), Tuthilltown Spirits (Gardiner), and Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery (Warwick). Those distilleries produce a wide range of spirits, ranging from fruit brandies to vodka to rum to bourbon.

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Posted by on April 1, 2011 in Distillers, Hudson Valley


• Finger Lakes Distilling expands staff

BURDETT, NY — Finger Lakes Distilling no longer is the exclusive purview of men named McKenzie. Now there is another name of Scottish heritage working on the spirits.

Brian Ferguson (right, in photo) has been appointed assistant distiller, working with co-founders Thomas Earl McKenzie (left, in photo) and Brian McKenzie in the Schuyler County operation.

Ferguson is a graduate of the Smeal College of Business at Penn State University. He worked in production, sales and as part of the tasting room staff at Finger Lakes Distilling last summer to get acquainted with the operation.

The unrelated McKenzies, incidentally, recently introduced newly redesigned bottles for their Vintner’s Vodka and Vintner’s Wild Berry (shown at left). The vodkas are made from premium New York State grapes and, as their recipes call for, also use locally-grown strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries before a second distillation to concentrate the flavors.

No changes, by the way, in their whiskies — rye and bourbon — or their gin and liqueurs.

Finger Lakes Distilling is located at 4676 NYS Route 414 in Burdett, Schuyler County, near Seneca Lake. Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Phone: (607) 546-5510.

No changes, by the way, in their whiskies.

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Posted by on February 5, 2011 in Distillers


• Tuthilltown Spirits founder critically hurt

Bill Dowd Photo

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY — Ralph Erenzo (right), a founder and master distiller of Tuthilltown Spirits in nearby Gardiner, is reported still in critical condition after a near-fatal car accident last Tuesday.

Erenzo is a patient at St. Francis Hospital here. Although there are few details about the accident, it is known that he was alone in the car.

Erenzo and partner Brian Lee founded the Tuthilltown micro-distillery in 2006 in a former gristmill. Although there now are a number of micro-distilleries in New York, Tuthilltown made the first whiskey distilled in the state since Prohibition and the first ever New York state-produced bourbon.

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Posted by on December 27, 2010 in Distillers


• NY wine/spirits tasting for Special Olympics

CLIFTON PARK, NY — If you’re going to be in Saratoga County and in the mood for some wine tasting and charitable work on Friday, November 12, circle the date on your calendar.

Exit 9 Wine & Liquors, located at 9 Halfmoon Crossings Boulevard, is planning a free tasting of New York adult beverages from 3 to 7 p.m. that day. Twenty-five percent of New York product sales that day will be donated to Special Olympics of New York.

More than two dozen wineries, along with a trio of distilleries, will be supplying samples of wines, hard ciders and spirits. The tasting is open to anyone 21 or over.

Exit 9 carries a large selection of New York wines. You can get the full lists online.

Check out my New York Drinks Events Calendar, the most comprehensive you’ll find anywhere.


• New Yorkers making George proud

BURDETT, NY — Brian and Thomas McKenzie (left to right in the photo) of Finger Lakes Distilling were involved in the creation of peach brandy at the George Washington Distillery at Mount Vernon, VA, as part of a recent cooperative venture led by a number of craft distillers from around the country. Here’s an excerpt, called “Making George proud” that Brian wrote on their blog:

The past few days have been filled with some of the most memorable experiences we’ve had since starting Finger Lakes Distilling. … It’s not common knowledge, but our founding father was, at one time, the largest commercial whiskey producer in the U.S. After fighting for our independence and serving as our first president, Washington re-focused his energy into entrepreneurial ventures, the distillery being one example, after being talked into it by his plantation manager, James Anderson (a Scot, of course). … While rye whiskey was the main output from the distillery at Mount Vernon, the records show that other spirits were produced. Peach brandy was produced in small quantities (-60 gallons per year), and was consumed primarily by guests at Washington’s estate.

Our task began back here in Burdett, where we brought in over 500 gallons of fresh peach juice in early September. We fermented and distilled the juice into peach low wines (1x distilled) which we donated to the project. After completing the necessary paperwork, we transferred the liquid to Mount Vernon Distillery, a functioning distilled spirits plant at the historical site. … After the usual stops at some breweries and distilleries along the way, we settled in … . Work began first thing Tuesday morning. We transferred the low wines over to the distillery, blended with another distiller’s contribution and cut down to 40 proof. The liquid was then divided into two of the five stills that would have been functioning in Washington’s day.

[Go here for the full entry and a raft of photos.]

Congrats to the McKenzies, who as most people know by now are related only in their efforts to create craft spirits.

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Posted by on October 18, 2010 in Distillers, Spirits


A NY touch for new George Washington brandy

One of New York State’s emerging craft distilling personalities will be helping make history next month.

Brian McKenzie (right), co-founder and co-owner of Finger Lakes Distilling in Burdett, Schuyler County, will be one of a half-dozen distilling team leader working on a revival of George Washington’s original peach brandy next Wednesday, October 6.

Using 18th Century techniques, the distillers will create a unique brandy at the Mount Vernon Distillery on the grounds of Washington’s Virginia estate. It eventually will be be sold to the public to benefit Mount Vernon’s educational programs.

Washington’s distillery product was almost entirely rye whiskey, but he did make the peach brandy as a special sideline for entertaining at Mount Vernon, according to Washington’s own records. The modern-day distillers are hoping it will do as well as a recent limited-edition rye did, with the entire 471-bottle run selling out in two hours this past July.

The other distillery team leaders involved in the October project led by chief Mount Vernon historian Dennis Pogue:

• Ted Huber, Huber Starlight Distillery, Indiana

• Lance Winters, St. George Spirits, California

• Scott Bush, Templeton Rye Spirits, Iowa

• David Pickerell, WhistlePig Whiskey, Vermont

• Joe Dangler, A. Smith Bowman Distillery, Virginia

George Washington’s Distillery was recreated in 2007 from his original plans and diary entries on its original site at 5514 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway (SR 235), three miles south of the Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens main entrance. The complex is open to the public. You can read my first-hand report from that opening day by clicking here.

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Posted by on September 30, 2010 in Distillers


State’s newest distillery opens in Port Chester

PORT CHESTER, NY — The craft distilling movement continues to grow in New York State.

The latest distillery is StillTheOne, located in this Westchester County town, which received its state license this month. It is the county’s first legal distillery since Prohibition, and will make its official debut at a September 25 launch party at Caffee Regatta in Pelham although it already is appearing in some liquor stores.

Ed Tiedge, a former hedge fund portfolio manager, is the founder of StillThe One. The tale of how the business came about is that his wife, Donna, insisted he sell his Porsche to help fund the venture. The online buyer turned out to be the owner of a small winery and cognac distillery in France. He invited Tiedge to France to apprentice for a month and help with production.

The new distillery, located in a 2,000-square-foot former warehouse, is named StillTheOne in honor of the Tiedges’ 26-year marriage.

Tiedge is distilling and bottling vodka and is starting to produce gin, as well as planning a brandy for fall. The vodka brand name is COMB because it is distilled from honey. The gin brand name is COMB 9 for the nine botanicals in the recipe, which includes the requisite juniper berries as well as rose petals, lavender, galangal, and orange peel.

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Posted by on August 9, 2010 in Distillers, Vodka


Another NY bourbon joins the field

BURDETT, NY — Put two unrelated guys together who share not only a surname but a love of spirits and the result is Finger Lakes Distilling, a craft distillery in the heart of New York’s Finger Lakes wine country. The partners are Thomas Earl McKenzie (left) and Brian McKenzie (right), and they produce a line of spirits that includes, rye, bourbon, gin, vodka and liqueurs.

The latest spirit in their portfolio has just gone on sale — McKenzie Bourbon (Imagine the partners’ conversation: “It’s named for me.” “No, it’s named for me.”)

The ingredients are strictly New York — 70% of the mash is made from organic corn grown near Penn Yan, the water is local. It’s not the state’s first bourbon; Tuthilltown Spirits in the lower Hudson Valley has several expressions. But, if the quality matches that of the McKenzies’ rye whiskey, you’re in for a treat. (Go to my Dowd’s Tasting Notes entry on their rye.)

Right now, you can buy the McKenzie Bourbon ($45 for a 750ml bottle) only at the tasting room, but that eventually will change since the distillers’ others spirits are sold in various parts of the state.

Finger Lakes Distilling is located at 4676 NYS Route 414 in this Schuyler County community near Seneca Lake. Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Phone: (607) 546-5510.

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Posted by on May 9, 2010 in Bourbon, Distillers, Spirits


NY craft distillers hitting high notes (Part 1)

[Photo by William M. Dowd]
First of two parts
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY — The outdoor setting was enhanced by lights twinkling on the bare branches of a tree, crisply-painted white framing around windows on green clapboard storefronts, and the French doors on other facades were snugly closed against the winter air.

The catch was, this was indoors, in a meeting room at Longfellows, a popular rustic restaurant/inn on Route 9 east of the iconic Saratoga Race Course.

The Tuesday afternoon occasion was a seminar and tasting, an event that dealt with anything but facades and misdirection. The subject: craft-distilled New York State spirits.

It’s a fledgling industry in the Empire State, yet it already is growing by leaps and bounds.

Some New York State wineries are spinning off their own distilleries. Other distilleries are standalone operations. The licensed distilleries are scattered across the state, but they may be popping up in clumps if what is going on in Brookly is any indicator. In that borough, four licensees are in the process of developing distilleries.

Last year, the fact that there were a dozen or more licensees led to creation of the New York Craft Distillers Guild, formed to help lobby the state as needed on behalf of a group rather than having individual distillers troop in one at a time to try getting attention.

The New York Farm Bureau, which works to support family farms and related small busineses, has been supportive of the move. And, the first meeting of the new Guild was organized by The Hudson Valley Agri-Business Development Corporation.

“We want to make the firm statement that spirits production in New York is an agricultural undertaking,” Todd Erling, executive director of HVADC, said at the time. “Distillers use agricultural products, and craft distilleries have the potential to create new markets for New York-grown fruits and grain while also creating a new tax source for the state.”

New York now has the highest concentration of distilleries of any state east of the Mississippi, according to the Guild.

In recognition of this, the New York Wine & Culinary Center, headquartered in Canandaigua, has undertaken a program of spirits tastings as part of the “Sample New York” project to push the state’s food and beverage products.

The first was held here for the trade and media, with tasting flights covering unaged spirits, aged spirits and cordials. Future sessions will be held in New York, Buffalo, Rochester and Canandaigua.

I can say unequivocally that of the 15 products I tasted, I would not be reluctant to try any of them again. As a veteran of hundreds of such events and dozens of national and international tasting competitions, I’ve never had that experience before.

Even though even the most experienced New York craft distillers are relative rookies in the field, the quality level of their wares as displayed here is excellent.

Samples were provided by Long Island Spirits, Harvest Spirits, J=Hidden Marsh, Mazza, Finger Lakes Distilling, Tuthilltown Spirits, Hidden Marsh and Warwick Valley.

They included vodka, eau de vie, gin, corn whiskey, rye whiskey, applejack, brandy, apple liqueur, grappa, cherry cordial and a pair of “sorbetta” citrus liquers.

NEXT: The proof’s in the tasting.

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Posted by on January 26, 2010 in Distillers, Spirits


NY craft distillers hitting high notes (Part 2)

[Photos by William M. Dowd]

Second of two parts. (Miss Part 1? Click here.)

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY — New York’s winemakers like to extoll the virtues of the differences in soil and weather that affect the grapes they use to make their wines. New York’s distillers don’t make as much of a distinction.

“Marketing our products really depends on selling the overall high quality and handcrafted nature of what we make,” said Jeremy Kidde (right), owner of American Fruits Distillery, a division of Warwick Valley Winery in Orange County.

Speaking as a panelist at a seminar and tasting of New York craft-distilled spirits at Longfellows restaurant Tuesday, Kidde said:

“We got into marketing early to promote our eau de vie products, mostly in Manhattan. Retailers were anxious to take us on. But the scale was surprising. We sold two cases in a year, and they told us some of the major imports sold only four cases a year for things like Trimbach and eau de vies.

“We saw it wasn’t a big market here, so we went into fruit liqueurs. We sell some things, such as our apple liqueur, as an after-dinner drink, or others, like our sour cherry cordial, as mixers.”

Of course, getting started in the business is no slam-dunk.

Ralph Erenzo (left), co-founder in 2001 with Brian Lee and Vicki Morgan of Tuthilltown Spirits in Ulster County, the state’s first whiskey distillery founded since Prohibition, related an anecdote about setting up his German-made still.

“We started unpacking all the crates and realized the set-up instructions were all in German,” he said. “None of us spoke German, but we thought we could figure it out.

“When we unpacked some chairs, I thought, ‘I wonder if Brian ordered chairs so we could sit and watch the still working.’ Then we came across all sorts of glass items, and finally we realized what we had received was equipment meant for a hair salon. In Queens!”

The mixup eventually was fixed, of course, and each business got the proper equipment. But, until that happened, “We wondered what the hair stylists thought when they started unpacking a still.”

What is the future of such products, given their relative infancy in the market, particularly the liqueurs and cordials that have always been a niche product compared to whiskies, vodkas, gins and bourbons?

“Dekuyper” — mass-manufacturer of a huge variety of cordials and liqueurs used mostly for cocktails — “has had its day,” Kidde said. “People want high quality, handcrafted ingredients.”

His fellow panelists agreed: Erenzo, Richard Stabile of Long Island Spirits, Derek Grout of Harvest Spirits and Brian McKenzie of Finger Lakes Distilling, who brought a variety of their products to the event. co-sponsored by the New York Craft Distillers Guid and the New York Wine & Culinary Center. Hidden Marsh Distillery and Mazza Chautauqua Cellars sent samples as well.

My tasting notes of the three flights of spirits samples — unaged spirits, aged spirits and cordials:


LiV Vodka: This spirit, utilizing the region’s signature potatoes, gets your attention immediately with its slightly citrusy nose, its pleasing oiliness and its hints of grapefruit and rose petals. I’d put LiV right into the top echelon of potato vodkas I’ve sampled in recent years. From Long Island Spirits.

Harvest Spirits Core Vodka: This apple-based clear spirit is true to its origin with a vaguely apple note and a hint of spice. Smooth, warm and clean finishing. From Golden Harvest Farms in Columbia County.

Hidden Marsh BEE Vodka: A honey-based spirit with a bit of a sting. Not that acrid sharpness lower-priced vodkas have, but a pleasant note on the tongue, and a warm, smooth finish. From the Montezuma Winery in Seneca Falls.

Mazza Chautauqua Plum Eau de Vie: This is a delicate spirit, with floral notes and touches of cardamom and orange. An excellent product. From Mazza Chautauqua Cellars in Chautauqua County.

Seneca Drums Gin: This is an extremely distinctive gin, with early citrus notes then botanicals that provide the imbiber with clover, menthol and spice, all things that will hold up to a dry vermouth or a fruit juice when mixed into a cocktail. From Finger Lakes Distilling in Burdett.

Tuthilltown Spirits New York Corn Whiskey: A delightfully robust and smooth product, not at all the “moonshine” its name might connote. Powerful alcohol notes, typical of the genre. From Tuthilltown Spirits in Orange County.


• Tuthilltown Spirits Manhattan Rye Whiskey: Spicy, floral, a great nose. At once robust and clean on the palate. An excellent addition to the category.

McKenzie Rye Whiskey: A pronounced caramel and clove yin-and-yang that makes this rich spirit distinctive. From Finger Lakes Distilling.

Harvest Spirits Cornelius Applejack: A nicely old-fashioned style to this recipe, which results in touches of apple, cloves, caramel and violet.

Hidden Marsh Queen’s Flight Honey Brandy: A multi-level taste profile, with eucalyptus on top and warm honey notes below. An underlying smoothness to the overall taste.

Warwick Valley Bourbon Barrel Apple Liqueur: This is a hard cider with aged apple brandy added, finished in once-used bourbon barrels. There is a buttery feel to it, with pronounced flavor of Jonagold apples. A gentle, refined spirit.


• Mazza Chautauqua Grappa of Steuben: Steuben and vidal are the two most-used grappa base ingredients among New York distillers. This version is clean, slightly floral and has a honeyed finish.

Long Island Spirits Sorbetta Lemon: Immediately reminiscent of French pastille candies in the aroma. A lovely lemon yellow color, fruit forward but with a distinct touch of butterscotch in the finish.

Long Island Spirits Sorbetta Orange: Orange cake frosting comes immediately to mind. A touch cloying in the middle notes, but the citrus then comes to the rescue and the finish is clean and refreshing.

Warwick Valley Sour Cherry Cordial: This is the way I like cherry pie to taste — a hint of cinnamon and cloves, a touch of the tartness of the New York Montmorency cherries, made with a brandy of cherries, grapes and apples. Superb.

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Posted by on January 2, 2010 in Distillers, Spirits


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