Mad River Distillers

Visit #20, April 9, 2016MAD XVI

The road recently thawed on this mid-Spring day in Vermont.  The night before there was some snow which probably made the skiers over at Sugarbush happy.  On top of Cold Springs Farm Road just south of Waitsfield, VT, sits Mad River Distillers, a five-year old distillery making rum, whiskey and rye.  Cold Springs Farm dates back to the mid-19th century and became a horse farm later in its life.  The horse barn on the farm became what is now the distillery in 2011 and began to produce spirits in 2013.MAD XVII

Vermont is a very picturesque state and the location of this farm, now distillery, is amazing with the mountains in the background.  Our group consisted of some members of the Saratoga Whisk(e)y Club, and we were all very excited to get inside to check out what they were producing.  Saratoga Whiskey Club

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Distiller and guide Zack

Our host, one of two distillers at Mad River Distillers, was Zack Fuller.  Zack studied distilling in Scotland and is now distilling and experimenting in this beautiful spot in Northern Vermont.  He provided our group with an excellent overview of their process and equipment.  Here are some notes from our tour:

  • distilling takes place 7 days a week
  • pre-milled grains come from a 300-mile radius (Vermont, New York and Massachusetts)
  • fair trade sugars from Malawi used for rum
  • Vermont apples are used for brandy
  • 250 gallon mash tank
  • 4 500 gallon fermentation tanks for whiskey and rye, this fermentation lasts 4-5 days
  • 2 separate 1000 gallon fermentation tanks used for rum and brandy, this fermentation lasts between 2-3 weeks
  • Zack used a great quote: “farts CO2 and pisses alcohol” – never heard that one before
  • Mueller pot still from Germany
  • 53 gallons of mash pumped from fermenter into still – run times for the still: heads – 15 minutes, hearts – 1 – 1 1/2 hours yielding 4-5 gallons, tails – less than 15 minutes
  • Cold Spring water is hard water
  • various sized barrels used including 15, 25, 30 and 53-gallon barrels with some Spanish sherry butts
  • they started aging the bourbon and rye in 25 gallon barrels for one year
  • 53 gallon barrels are from Kentucky and Minnesota
  • some 25 gallon barrels used to age rum come from Canada
  • in 2015, they produced 2,000 cases of spirits
  • the goal for 2016 is 3,000 cases
  • distribution currently in Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island
Zack at the Mueller still
Zack at the Mueller still

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The tour itself was perfect and to have one of the main distillers explain everything made it even more special.  Zack was extremely knowledgeable and was able to answer all of our questions and give us some insight as to where they want to head as a company.  Future collaborations with Lawson’s craft beer company really perked our ears.

We finished our tour with a tasting of 7 of their spirits.  Here is what we tasted:

  • Vanilla Rum – infused with vanilla beans for 6-8 months, 40% ABV
  • First Run Rum – aged 4 months in lightly charred oak barrels, 48% ABV
  • Maple Rum – best seller, aged 6-8 months after syrup is made, 48% ABV
  • Corn Whiskey – 85% corn, 5% rye, 5% wheat, 2-3 months in a lightly toasted barrel, 48% ABV
  • Bourbon – mash bill: 70% corn, 10% wheat, 10% oat, 10% barley – aged for 1 year in a 25 gallon barrel, 48% ABV
  • Malvados – 100% Vermont mixed apples, Malvados means “wicked” in Portuguese, 50% ABV
  • Revolution Rye – 100% rye, 3 varieties – chocolate, cracked malt and toasted, 48% ABV
  • We also got to try a small sample of a single malt that they are doing with Lawson’s brewery and their Hopscotch, very tasty!

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Overall it was a great tour and tasting.  Wine Enthusiast just rated the Revolution Rye with 92 points and it definitely is a good rye to pick up, if you can find it.  We were happy to be able to purchase a variety of their spirits.

Charles’ Notes: This visit worked out great.  We didn’t really know much about Mad River Distillers other than what was on their website.  You still can’t get their product in New York State.  It turned out to be the highlight of the weekend.  Zack was super friendly and helpful with our questions and it turned out to be a great time spent.  It is always such a nice experience when you have unknown expectations and walk out with new appreciation of a craft.  They are craft distillers that care about their product and put the love into it that is needed to get noticed and grow.   I look forward to returning to Mad River Distillers in the future and trying some more of their single malt products.

Also, they are located near Waterbury, VT, which is a great place to stay.  It almost feels like the craft beer mecca of the United States.  Lawson’s and the Alchemist breweries are located here and produce phenomenal beers.  We spent Saturday night in town and definitely recommend The Prohibition Pig for BBQ and the local taverns for some great draft pours.  Cheers!MAD XI

 

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Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery

Visit #19, March 19, 2016TUT-XIX

The Hudson Baby Bourbon first made me aware of the craft distiller movement in the Hudson Valley and New York State region.  I purchased a bottle for my father-in-law many years ago as a gift and we definitely enjoyed sampling it.  How they called it “bourbon” surprised me and made me do some research online.  The myth of bourbon only being made in Kentucky turned out to be… a myth!!  Since Tuthilltown Spirits was one of the pioneers of distilling in the Northeast, it was high on my list of distilleries to visit.  It made for a great day trip.

Grist mill
Grist mill

Located directly on the Wallkill River in Gardiner, NY, the history of the property of Tuthilltown Spirits goes back to the 18th century.  One of the buildings that is currently used as the on-site restaurant was once a grist mill that started in 1788.  The grist mill lasted over 200 years and it was only in 2002 that it stopped production.  The property was purchased in 2001 by Ralph Erenzo with the intention of creating a rock-climbing ranch since the site is located not far from the famous rock-climbing cliffs called the Gunks.  What started out to be a rock-climbing camp changed directions and became the 1st distillery in New York State built since Prohibition using the newly created farm distillers license.  Brian Lee, Ralph’s partner at Tuthilltown, came from Connecticut with technical expertise.  For 10 1/2 years now, Tuthilltown Spirits has been distilling gins, vodkas and whiskies.

The distillery
The distillery

Our tour for the afternoon was led by Lyon, an enthusiastic guide who was very good and knowledgeable on all things Tuthilltown.  Here are some notes from our tour:

  • started with a 150 gallon still from Germany
  • started producing vodka in 2005 and Baby Bourbon in 2006
  • first batch of Baby Bourbon ever was 128 bottles and they used 3 gallon barrels that aged the whiskey for only 3 months, the whiskey was sold using medicinal bottles
  • since William Grant & Sons acquired the Hudson Whiskey brand in 2010, its production has increased to 1 million bottles of the Hudson Baby Bourbon made in 2015
  • now 10 to 60 gallon barrels are used for the Baby Bourbon and the whiskey is aged from 2 to 4 years
  • 90% of the grain is sourced within New York state with the exception of malted barley that comes from Montreal
  • corn, wheat and rye are all sourced 45 minutes west in Cochecton, NY
  • apples sourced from Tantillo’s Farm in Gardiner, NY
  • 1600 lbs of grain (or 32 bags) are used in each mash
  • a 1930’s roller mill is used to mill grain, found on eBay
  • a 900 gallon pasta sauce cooker is the cook tank
  • 1000 gallons of mash is mashed for 1 hour and a heat-exchanger cooling system takes only 5 minutes to cool mash
  • they started with one 500 gallon fermentation tank, now they have eight 2500 gallon wine fermentation tanks from California
  • fermentation takes between 3 to 4 days
  • Pot to column stills, three stills 330 / 650 / 850 gallons
  • 90 gallons of liquid produced from the stills, only 40 gallons is considered the “hearts” or the spirit that is kept and aged, the “heads” are only 3% and the “tails” is the rest
  • 4% of the total mash ends up in the “hearts”
  • for vodka, a 21 column fractional still is used, comes off at 160 proof
  • water used comes from a deep well on the property that is triple-distilled
  • production times are Monday to Friday in shifts
  • they use a couple of cooperages for barrels – the Kelvin Cooperage in Kentucky and the Black Swan Cooperage in Minnesota
  • cotton micro filters are used when dumping barrels for bottling
  • their new bottling line has tripled the speed of their bottling process
  • all bottle are hand-waxed
  • 2500 bottles a day are produced as a minimum (3 pallets)
Lyon starting the tour
Lyon starting the tour
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Grain storage and milling
Fermentation tanks
Fermentation tanks
Cooling device
Heat-exchange cooling system
Lyon explaining the still room
Lyon explaining the still room

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The bottling center
The bottling center
Lyon, our guide
Lyon, our guide

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In the bottling room
In the bottling room

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Overall it was a very informative tour and a beautiful property.  They have obviously grown tremendously over the last 10 years and with William Grant & Sons they will continue to gain both domestic and international recognition and distribution.  They seem to be the first distillery that I visited in the Northeast that had merged with a larger entity and you could tell that the scaling is an ongoing process.  Lyon was a great guide!

Grain storage
Grain storage

The tour ended and it was time for our tasting.  We were able to choose four of the following spirits:

  • Half Moon Orchard Gin (92 proof) – NY State wheat and apples distilled with eight botanicals
  • Hudson New York Corn Whiskey (92 proof) – a blend of locally grown corn, unaged whiskey
  • Hudson Baby Bourbon (92 proof) – aged New York Corn Whiskey in a first-use charred American Oak barrel
  • Hudson Four Grain Bourbon (92 proof) – corn, rye, wheat and malted barley make up this small batch whiskey
  • Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey (92 proof)
  • Hudson Maple Cask Rye Whiskey (92 proof) – Hudson Whiskey barrels sent to Woods Syrup, a maple syrup producer in Vermont that ages syrup in the barrels, barrels are then used to age a small batch of rye
The tasting bar
The tasting bar

The tasting was a nice way to end the tour before having lunch at the restaurant on site called the Tuthill House at the Mill.  The restaurant was a great place to unwind after the tour and they had a number of great craft beers on tap at the bar and the food was very good.  There was a wedding party being set up in the upstairs part of the restaurant which contained some of the old grist mill pieces.  What a great venue for a party!

The bar at the Tut Hill Restaurant
The bar at the Tuthill House Restaurant
Chorizo burger
Chorizo burger
Old grist mill machines
Old grist mill machines

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Charles’ Notes:  This was an interesting visit.  I wasn’t sure what to expect in size and modernity.  It turned out to be a combination of the old and the new.  I had always thought that the bourbon was good, but it was hard for me to buy much of it at the price that was asked for a 375 ml bottle.  But it seems like the Hudson whiskey line is now coming more into range with a lot of the other craft products that are available these days.  They even have larger bottles now which are at a good price point.  The tour experience was excellent.  We got to see the whole production area and were able to take photos.  Lyon was very good and took his time explaining to the group how everything was distilled.  It was fun seeing some of the older equipment that they kept on site as a reminder of where they started.  This is very important to have this perspective.  The tasting was good and it was nice to have a choice of what to taste.  They also had a lot of swag in the gift shop and other products that make for some good gifts.  The restaurant was a great way to end the day.  Overall, it was a very fun day trip.  Highly recommended.

One of the original stills
One of the original stills