A. Smith Bowman Distillery

Visit #22, May 17, 2016

Bowman - II

Just 58 miles south of Washington, D.C. resides the A. Smith Bowman Distillery.  It was an overcast Spring day that I made the trip to Fredericksburg, VA, the town located at the midpoint of the opposing capitals of the Civil War.  Most people come to visit the Civil War battlefields, but my purpose was bourbon.  In fact, they had just released another limited edition whiskey the day before, one that had sold out quickly in 8 hours, unfortunately for me.  But with that news behind me, I decided to enjoy the tour of the distillery as if the limited edition didn’t exist!Bowman - XXXV

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The A. Smith Bowman distillery just celebrated its 80th anniversary.  Licensed in 1935 by A. Smith Bowman, the distillery was originally located at the Sunset Hills Farm in Fairfax county outside of Washington, D.C.  In 1958, Robert E. Simon purchased most of the farm/distillery and in 1988, the distillery was moved to its current location in Fredericksburg, VA.  He moved it here because of the rising costs in the D.C. market.  The site was originally a cellophane factory that was used to wrap up cigars and cigarettes.  They were large when they moved, but in 2003 they were sold to another family and operates on a smaller basis now.

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The tour guide for the afternoon was Erin, one of only 13 people that work at the distillery.  Erin explained the history of the distillery and its move to its current location.  She also went over all of the different spirits that they produce.  Here are some notes from the tour of the distillery:

  • two stills used for production, George and Mary
  • George – Vendome still #1965, started using this in January, 2015, pot/column still, mash used for George is 500 gallons
  • Mary – 25 year old passive still – temperature not controlled, double reflux, triple distilled (first two distillations done at Buffalo Trace), only used in the Fall and the Spring seasons, was the original still for the Fredericksburg location
  • they chill filter their bourbon at 28 degrees for aesthetic reasons, the Abraham limited release is the only non-chill-filtered bourbon
  • barrels are stored upright (they don’t need to be rotated when standing upright), they use 53-gallon barrels from the Independent Stave Company in Lebanon, KY – American Oak from the Ozarks, char level of 3.5, bung holes are found on the ends of the barrels
  • close to 10,000 barrels are stored on site
  • distilling and operations happen from 7:30am to 3:30pm Monday-Friday
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Erin starting off the tour
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Explaining the barrels and char process

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George, the Vendome
George, the Vendome

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Mary, the passive still
Mary, the passive still

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The Mash Tank
The Mash Tank

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Chill-Filtration Tank
Chill-Filtration Tank

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Bung at the end of barrel
Bung at the end of barrel
Spirit from barrel entered into moat
Spirit from barrel entered into moat

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Anniversary Barrel
Barrel warehouse
Barrel warehouse

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Bottling Line
Bottling Line

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Erin was a great tour guide and gave a nice, comprehensive overview of the distillery and the process of making its whiskey.  It was nice to be able to go into all of the different rooms and see their style of production.  They definitely combine the old with the new.  I was amazed to see how many barrels they stored on site.  And the fact that they were stacked upright!

We gathered around the tasting table for the last part of the tour.  The first three spirits below were what we tasted, but listed after are the other products that they make:

  • John J. Bowman – Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Single Barrel, 100 proof
  • Bowman Brothers – Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Small Batch, 90 proof, comes from 8 barrels that are blended
  • Mary Hite Bowman Caramel Creme Liqueur – made with bourbon, probably excellent over ice cream
  • Abraham Bowman – Virginia Limited Edition Whiskey – two releases a year, this latest release sold out in 8 hours!  Wheat Bourbon
  • George Bowman – Colonial Era Dark Caribbean Rum – 1750s recipe, colonial style from Guyana, aged 3 years in bourbon barrels
  • Deep Run – Virginia Vodka – distilled 7 times, corn based
  • Sunset Hills – Viginia Gin – citrus

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Limited Edition!
Limited Edition!
Tasting table
Tasting table

Thank you to Erin for the great tour.  It was also nice chatting with the head distiller, Brian Prewitt, who started at A. Smith Bowman Distillery in 2013.  It seems like he has found a great place here at this distillery and based on the demand for the Abraham Bowman, he is making some great whiskey.

Brian
Brian

Charles’ Notes: It’s been a while since I visited a distillery that had close to 10,000 barrels on site.  Most of my time the last few months was spent visiting newer craft distillers in the Northeast, so it was refreshing to be back among the masses of American Oak.  The smell, the age, etc.  Obviously I was disappointed with not being able to get a bottle of the new Abraham Bowman, but in this day and age of bourbon mania, it’s best to get there on time.  Brian was great to talk to and learn about his history both at UC Davis in California and his time brewing in Colorado.  The A. Smith Bowman distillery is in good hands with his skills.  I look forward to getting back through Fredericksburg to see what is new in the future and will definitely time my visit better to arrive on the release date, not the day after.

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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

 

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

TUT-IX

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

Litchfield Distillery

Visit #18, February 27, 2016LITCHFIELD XXVIII

Daffodils.  Farms.  Colonial buildings with white paint and black shutters. These are the memories I have of Litchfield, CT, when visiting here a few times with my mother on Mother’s Day to shop for plants at White Flower Farm. But bourbon?  Aged whiskey?  It turns out that Litchfield is now home to a new operation of distilling and aging some increasingly popular spirits!  As Connecticut’s distillery boom begins, the Litchfield Distillery is leading the way  by embracing a well-followed script of blending the old with the new and giving the public a nice tour and taste in the process.

Started by the Baker brothers in 2013, the Litchfield Distillery is using the knowledge and business savvy that the brothers acquired from owning a century-old water company, Crystal Rock.  This third-generation business has helped the Baker brothers take the natural leap into the distilling world.  Added to the mix is the head distiller James McCoy whose background includes time at Harpoon Brewery and a distilling degree from Scotland.

LITCHFIELD V

Our tour was led by David Baker.  He provided the large group on the tour with a great experience filled with lots of information and explanation.  Here are some notes from the tour:

  • Distillation happens 4 days a week, they have been distilling for 14 months and have been in the building for 2 years
  • 95% of grain is from Connecticut, 800 lbs of grain a day of corn and rye
  • Hammer mill is used for grinding grain to be sent to mash tun
  • Mashing takes 1 hour before wash is placed in 5 fermentation tanks, each holding up to 2,000 liters, heated with steam jackets
  • 12 hours for the yeast to become active, 5-7 days of fermentation
  • City water is used for cooling, bottled water from Crystal Rock is used for distilling
  • Hybrid pot to column still made by Mueller in Germany, 500 liters
  • Still runs: 1/2 hour heads, 1 hour 45 minutes hearts, tails the rest
  • For bourbon distilling, 3 plates closed in column still
  • 100 gallon gin still made by Trident Stills in Maine
  • For gin distilling, all 7 plates closed in column still and 24 hours to extract flavors of ingredients
  • Current aged bourbon is a little over a year old
  • Barrels made in Kentucky, Minnesota and Long Island
  • Different char levels used, #4 (alligator char) and #3
  • 4 barrels/week are filled, 1 for shorter-term use and 3 for longer-term use
  • 600-800 bottles/batch, done once a week, bottler takes 30 seconds per fill
  • Bottles are made in the USA

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Mash bill of bourbon and gin

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Mash Tank

LITCHFIELD III

Fermentation Tanks
Fermentation Tanks

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Different char levels
Different char levels

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The tour experience was very well done as the entire process was explained.  It was followed by a tasting provided in a beautifully-decorated tasting area which also serves as a gift shop and tiny museum.  Here is what we tasted:

  • Bourbon Whiskey – charred in #4 barrels, mash bill is 70% corn, 20% rye and 10% barley, 1 year-old, 43% ABV
  • Double Barreled Bourbon Whiskey – 250 barrels of 6-year old bourbon was purchased from a Kentucky distillery, now at 8 years of age, it is re-barreled with 3-year old bourbon, 44% ABV
  • Gin – this was a nice gin that could be used for cocktails, 43% ABV
  • We also got to try a new cask-finished bourbon that will be coming out soon, but we agreed not to mention what type of cask or process, but it was very nice at 100 proof

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Charles’ Notes:  It was nice traveling to Litchfield and seeing how well this distillery is doing.  Both the brothers David and Jack were extremely accommodating and it always says something when the owners are there presenting to guests and showing their passion for what they do.  The tour was well executed and it was obvious that the group enjoyed themselves.  I do look forward to making another visit in the next year or so to see what is next available.  They are very progressive in their thinking of cask-finishes and this could be a great benefit for their bourbons.  As Connecticut distilleries continue to ramp up, I am sure Litchfield will be leading the way.LITCHFIELD XXVI

LITCHFIELD XXIV

The Albany Distilling Company

Visit #16, January 9, 2016

ALBANY IALBANY II

 

 

 

 

You can tell a lot about a distillery based on its cat.  In Albany, NY, at The Albany Distilling Company (ADCo), one of the co-distillers is Cooper, the distillery cat.  Cooper has many jobs: security, pest-removal, temperature control, and his main job is guest satisfaction.  One Saturday morning in mid-January we met this character along with one of his owners, John Curtin, for a tour and tasting of this almost five-year old distillery in our backyard.  John had just returned from meetings in NYC and it seems like ADCo is moving fast and into quite a few markets.  Cooper was happy to see him and the other guests that were there to tour this local distillery.

Opened in October of 2012, but incorporated in 2011, The Albany Distilling Company is the oldest distilling company in Albany.  It is a farm distillery.  ADCo’s license requires that at least 75% of the ingredients used in its spirits come from New York state.  Located close to the banks of the Hudson River, ADCo has been growing and expanding in the last couple of years with locations now in Troy and soon in Schenectady.  They also recently hired 4 new people in its full first year of distribution.  They seem to be running out of space!

Our tour was led by John, one of the co-owners of ADCo.  Here are some of the notes we took during the tour regarding the distilling process of their spirits:

  • 750 lbs of grains are milled per batch
  • Mash Tun is 480 gallons or 1800 liters – 2 stages
  • 2 mashes processed per week
  • 2 Fermentation Tanks – each 550 gallons, fermentation takes 2-3 days
  • Pot to Column Still
  • Distilling – 10 liters of heads, 30-40 liters of hearts, 30-40 liters of tails
  • White Oak barrels used, 30 gallon, 53 gallon and 59 gallon
  • Barrels come from Long Island, Kentucky, Missouri and Minnesota
  • In 2015, 91 barrels were produced
  • A little over 70 barrels are stored on site
The mill and Cooper
The mill and Cooper
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John, co-owner, at the Mash Tun
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Fermentation Tanks

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The tour was great.  John definitely has a passion for crafting spirits.  You could tell that they are growing quickly and running out of space.  The new additions will be needed.  After the tour we moved to the tasting bar which is nicely situated next to the production area.  The tasting consisted of the following:

  • New make from the bourbon mash (60% corn, 25% rye & 15% barley)
  • Bourbon – a mix of 8, 14 and 16-month-aged bourbon, 43% ABV
  • Malt – 2 year old (60% barley, 20% oat, 20% wheat), 43% ABV
  • Rye – about 1 year old (75% rye, 25% malted wheat), 43% ABV
  • 10th Pin – apple brandy

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ALBANY XIII

It was a fun tasting.  The visitors were asking questions and were enthused.

Charles’ Notes: It’s great to see a local distillery doing so well in such a short period of time.  They obviously have large ambitions with the Troy and Schenectady plans, but they do have a leg up in the area since they started early.  My favorite spirit that was tried was the Malt.  It was unusual using the oat and I thought this added character and a taste that was unique.  The bourbon and rye need more time to mature but they are on the right path.  It will be fun to watch both the whiskey and the distillery evolve over the next few years.

Matt from Still Trippers with Cooper
Matt from Still Trippers with Cooper

Springbrook Hollow Farm Distillery

Visit #15, December 19th, 2015Spring XVISpring XVSpring XIV

The Christmas holidays were close at hand when we visited this northern oasis in Upstate New York just outside of Queensbury and Lake George.  Springbrook Hollow Farm Distillery is set on a beautiful property tucked back in the foothills of the Adirondacks.  Co-owned by Mike Forcier, Dave Bannon, Tony DeSantis and Ken Rohne, the distillery has been opened to the public since December of 2014.  In this time they have done some remarkable work crafting their spirits and drafting plans that should make them known outside of New York state and possibly the USA.

Our tour was led by owners Dave and Ken and they provided us with a great overview of how their distilling operations work and the plans they have for the future.  It is very much a local operation with ingredients coming from many of the local farms and providers found in New York state.  They use all New York state grains and most of the grain comes from the Ellsworth Farm in Easton, NY.  The cider, cinnamon and maple all come from local farms in the area as well.

Here are some notes from our tour of their equipment and process:

  • 600-gallon mash tun / 1000 lb of grain
  • Bulk farm milk tank is used for both cold water and fermentation
  • Fermentation takes approximately 5 days
  • 2 days of distillation on Thursday and Friday
  • Kothe German Pot Still – 300 gallons – has a stainless steel jacket
  • The still is steam-fired with a 1 million BTU steamer
  • Hot water is solar-produced
  • Whiskey Helmet – shape configured for whiskey
  • Hybrid still produces 30 gallons of hearts
  • Barrels come from US Barrel in Wilmington, NY
  • They currently use 15 gallon and 53 gallon barrels
  • 4-bottle labeler machine – takes 30 seconds
  • Bottles dipped in wax similar to Maker’s Mark
    Mash Tun
    Mash Tun
    Mash Tun
    Mash Tun
    Farm milk tank
    Farm milk tank

    Spring IV

    Kothe Still
    Kothe Still

    Spring XVIIISpring XVII

    Grain storehouse
    Grain storehouse
    Mill
    Mill
    Work Station
    Work Station
    Wax melting and dipping
    Wax melting and dipping
    Upstairs in a barrelhouse
    Upstairs in a barrelhouse

    Spring IXSpring VIISpring VIII

The tour itself was great.  You can see the passion that both Dave and Ken had for their products.  Dave took us upstairs to see the spirit aging in barrels in the hay loft.  He mentioned that they would like to remodel the space upstairs for special events and possibly dinners.  I think it would be a great idea.   Out back we saw their grinder/mill and storage area for grain.

Back inside we were able to taste some of their products, including their Double Gold National winner Two Sisters Vodka, the Gold International winner Sly Fox Gin, the varied flavored moonshines (both apple cider and maple), and their “cellos”, the Limoncello and the Orangecello.  After talking to them for a while about their whiskey aging upstairs, Dave thought that we needed to see how it was doing.  Before I knew it Ken went upstairs and pulled a small sample from one of the barrels that has been aging for almost 16 months.  Now this was a cask-strength taste and it was very good.  I really look forward to tasting the final product.  This could be special.  Thanks to Dave and Ken for a great tour and taste!Spring XXVSpring XIIISpring XII

Charles’ Notes: What’s nice about a small operation like this is that you can really see the amount of work it takes to run a distillery like this.  And the modifications that are made to make things work.  To see a farm milk tank being used as a fermentation tank was new to me.  But what a great dual use of this piece of equipment.  This distillery is a combination of science and function.  The location is really beautiful, set above the property with the woods as a backdrop.  I look forward to revisiting soon to see what projects are in the works.Spring XXVISpring I

 

Jersey Spirits Distilling Co.

Visit #14, November 21, 2015Jersey VI

As I drove into the commercial, industrial park in Fairfield, NJ, a certain HBO theme song kept popping up in my mind.  But I did not run into Tony Soprano as I turned the corner, fortunately.  Rather, it was a progressive business that is changing the landscape of the spirits industry in New Jersey.  Co-owned by John Granata, Sue Lord, and Betty MacDonald, Jersey Spirits Distilling Co. is a new operation created out of a true passion for craft distilling.

Jersey Spirits Distilling first opened its doors for tastings in mid-August, 2015.  It is the youngest distilling operation that I have visited, but there is a knowledge-base that runs deep.  John and Sue come from a food (restaurant) and science background.  They visited many distilleries prior to starting their own and mentioned the High West Distillery in Utah as one of their favorite inspirations.  After workshops and intense research, Jersey Spirits Distilling was started.

On the Saturday afternoon that I showed up for a tour they were having a group Infusion class.  This is just one of the different programs and classes that the distillery offers.  Also offered is a barrel share program which includes the ability for members to be involved in the process of distilling and aging a spirit.  There are monthly tastings where barrel-share members can come back and sample the changes that take place as the spirit is aged.  Not only that, you get to take home six bottles when it is aged to your liking.  Other classes include mixology and an apprentice class on being a distiller.

TJ, the assistant distiller
TJ, the assistant distiller
Top of the column still
Top of the column still
Fermentation tanks
Fermentation tanks
The gin still
The gin still

I was able to participate in the tour that was included with the Infusion class.  Here are some of my notes regarding their products and distilling process:

  • Boardwalk Rum uses Grade A molasses – sourced from LA or Caribbean
  • Water Filtration System, calcium is added
  • Fermentation for vodka takes between 3-8 days
  • Bourbon mash bill is 60% corn, 30% rye, and 10% malt
  • Rum fermentation takes between 2 to 3 weeks
  • There is a separate gin still
  • Ingredients such as honey (gin) and maple (bourbon) are sourced in New Jersey
  • Column still produces 150-200 bottles a week
Part of barrel operation
Part of barrel operation

After the tour I tasted three of their offerings: the Boardwalk Rum at 43% ABV, the Barnegat White Whiskey at 46% ABV and the Jersey Apple Hootch at 23% ABV.

Distillation Chart
Distillation Chart

Charles’ Notes: I wasn’t sure what to expect on my quick stop at Jersey Spirits Distilling Co.  I knew that an Infusion class was starting at about the same of my arrival, but this worked out well since I could join their tour which was given by TJ, the assistanct distiller.  Both John and Sue were gracious owners and spent time answering my questions.  I do look forward to coming back to New Jersey to try out their bourbon once it has aged longer, hopefully in 2016.  It had a great bar for tastings and a great vibe overall.  There is also a brewery, Magnify Brewing Company, in the same complex so this could make for a nice double visit.  I did not have time to visit them.  Overall, it was a very nice visit and tour and I look forward to meeting them all again.

Berkshire Mountain Distillers

Visit #13, November 14, 2015SIGN

Just south of Great Barrington, Massachussets, lies the oldest town in the Berkshire Mountains called Sheffield.  Settled in 1725, Sheffield is filled with working farms, antique shops, and a great craft distillery, Berkshire Mountain Distillers.  Established in 2007 by Chris Weld, the distillery’s initial idea grew out of an abundance of apples at the Soda Springs Farm (dating back to the 1860s) and the granite-fed spring located on the property.  In those eight years, the location of the distillery has moved to a new facility and has continued to evolve into new innovative spirits, including vodka, gin, rum, bourbon and corn whiskey.BUILDING

Our tour was led by Michael Sharry, the farm manager at the distillery.  Berkshire Mountain Distillers uses a ‘Grain to Glass’ mentality where most of their ingredients are sourced locally, with the exception of the blackstrap molasses used for their rum.  Many of the gin botanicals are grown right outside of the production building in the greenhouse on the property.  It is always great to see a craft distillery try and source everything right on site or nearby.

Greenhouse
Greenhouse

The main production room houses the mash tank, 5 fermentation tanks and the still.  Here are some of the notes from our tour about their mash bill, fermentation and distillation process:

  • The mash composition of the corn whiskey is 90% corn.
  • The bourbon uses 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% barley.
  • They make a high ester-count rum with a “banana peeley” and “tropical fruit” nose.
  • Fermentation takes about one week to produce a 10-15% ABV wash.
  • The original 500 gallon still is from Louisville, KY and it dates back to 1967.  Two pieces were added, a pot still used for the rum, whiskies and gin, and a column still producing a neutral spirit which is vodka-like.
  • The condensed vapor from the column still, at about 160 proof, is sent to the pot still with ingredients to steep for a day.
  • A shotgun condenser is used (cold pipes) for the distillation.
  • The rum and whiskey are triple-pot stilled.
  • 5 cuts of heads and 3 cuts of tails.
    Mash Tank
    Mash Tank
    Fermentation Tanks
    Fermentation Tanks

    Still
    Still

The adjacent room is the bottling and barrel room.  Here they use American Oak barrels for the aging of the bourbon.  They add oak and cherry wood to their corn whiskey, which is added like tea for about 12 months.  Bottling and labeling is done on site.  There is a warehouse in Sheffield where barrels are stored and whiskey is aged.

Bottling Station
Bottling Station

BARREL

The tour ended with a tasting of almost all of the different spirits produced by Berkshire Mountain Distillers, including the rum, gin, corn whiskey and bourbon.  Outside in the gift shop we also tasted some of the cask-finished bourbons.

Tasting
Tasting

TASTING

In 2013, Berkshire Mountain Distillers collaborated with 10 different craft brewers across the United States to use their barrels to add a different finish to their bourbon.  Their cask-finished bourbon includes casks from Sam Adams, Founders, Full Sail, Terrapin, Brewery Ommegang, Big Sky, Hale’s Ales, Smuttynose, Troegs and Cigar City Brewing.  At the distillery, many of these bourbons are available for tasting.  Even more recently, they have started a new venture called the Craft Brewers Whiskey Project.  This project is going to include using the actual beer from 15 different brewers, not just the barrels.  One of the first releases from this new style will be in February, 2016, with the release of a Cinder Bock whiskey (a collaboration with Cinder Bock beers), branded as Shay’s Rebellion, and the release of a Sam Adams whiskey called Two Lantern.  This will be incredible to try and we will definitely make a visit back to check these out.BARREL II

Charles’ Notes:  Berkshire Mountain Distillers has a great vibe.  The tour itself was casual and open for questions and pictures.  The use of both local and different ingredients with their variety of spirits is definitely noted.  I love the fact that they have a greenhouse on site.  They are taking chances with some of their whiskies, but isn’t this what the spirit of craft distilling is all about?  There is a trend in the whiskey industry towards using different flavors or finishes and they have taken this on with a passion.  Their rum has performed well and has been given a lot of respect in many different articles.  It will be great to revisit them next year as they continue to evolve and produce.  I purchased a cask-finished Brewery Ommegang bourbon and it is one of my favorites.  Also, on a side note, there is a great craft brewery just down the street called Big Elm Brewery.  Excellent beers and a great stop to include with a trip to Berkshire Mountain Distillers.

Cask-Finished Bourbon with Brewery Ommegang
Cask-Finished Bourbon with Brewery Ommegang

 

Hillrock Estate Distillery

Visit #12, October 17th, 2015Hillrock XII

 

Only three weeks after returning from our amazing 11-distillery adventure in Scotland, the itch for experiencing another distillery was high on our minds.  The Hillrock Estate Distillery was our first choice and what a gem we found in Ancram, NY.  Driving to Ancram is a treat, in and of itself, through the beautiful rolling hills between the Hudson Valley and the Berkshires.  It was a perfect fall day with the leaves changing colors and a crisp air signalling colder temps on the way.  The Hillrock House, overlooking the barley fields and the distillery, was restored in 2006 and stands as a sign of history as it was built by a Revolutionary War Captain back in 1806.

Hillrock X

 

Our guide for the afternoon was Tyler, one of the distillers we met during our visit.   Hillrock is very proud of its “field to glass” production and with good reason since there are very few found in the United States.  All of their corn, barley and rye is sourced within 15 miles of the distillery.  In fact, 36 acres of grain is grown on site.  The tour started in the Malt House, the first malt house built since prohibition.  It was here that we saw some of the ingredients that are used for making their whiskies.  The only non-local item was the peat that they import from the Speyside region of Scotland.

Upstairs in the Malt House is a room that contains the steeping tank and the floor where all of the barley is raked while germinating.  The grain is left in the steeping tank for approximately 3 days before it is taken out and spread across the floor and raked before going into the kiln which is located on the first floor.  They do about 1 ton of barley per week and typically use last year’s harvest.  The barley is raked every 6-8 hours or 3 times a day to prevent clumping.  Once ready, the barley is sent down a chute below to the kiln to stop germination where most of their regular single malt barley gets about 8 hours of peat smoke.  We were able to climb up and stick our heads in the kiln.  Matt, our Islay fan, was ready to jump in and get smoked.  It is a very impressive building and well laid out in its planning.

Steeping Tank
Steeping Tank
Malt Room
Malt Room
The peat smoker
The Kiln

Their still room is located in a separate building.  Here there is a mash tank (tun), 5 fermenting tanks and a pot still mixed with a kettle still.  The still and operation was set up by master distiller, Dave Pickerell, who previously spent 14 years at Maker’s Mark.  It takes about 1 day to make the mash using temperatures between 110 and 160 degrees.  The five fermentation tanks hold approximately 250 gallons and fermentation takes 4 to 5 days.  One run through the still is made with about 20 minutes of head, 8 hours of heart and another 20-30 minutes of tail.  30 gallons is made in one run.

Mash Tank (Tun)
Mash Tank (Tun)
Fermentation Tanks
Fermentation Tanks

Hillrock Fermentation Tank

Head, hearts, tail
Head, hearts, tail

Hillrock IXHillrock VIII

The barrels, made of Virgin American White Oak, are produced by the Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville, KY.  They primarily use 25-gallon barrels and they store over 2,500 barrels of spirit.Hillrock IV

Our tour ended with a tasting.  We tasted their bourbon, rye and single malt.  The bourbon uses the Solera process (adding and removing whisky over time creating more complexity) and is finished in Oloroso sherry casks.  The double cask rye is double matured in traditional oak casks and then in charred American white oak barrels.  Lastly we tasted various single malts with different levels of peat.  Their standard single malt uses 8 hours of peat smoke, but they also had a 14-hour and 20-hour bottle available.  It was great that they were trying out different lengths and techniques with all of their whiskies.  This will help them find the right balance moving forward.Hillrock Smoky

Charles’ Notes:  Overall, our visit to Hillrock Estate Distillery was excellent.  The facility and location are outstanding.  We enjoyed our 1-hour tour and tasting and looked forward to revisiting for a special event or when they are introducing their next revision or spirit.  Everyone was very friendly and willing to share their stories and successes.  It brought back certain memories from Scotland that you just cannot find here in the United States when visiting distilleries.