WhistlePig Distillery

Visit #21, April 27, 2016WHISTLE I

Nestled in the rolling hills just west of the Green Mountains in Vermont sits the WhistlePig Farm.  Purchased in 2007 by Raj Bhakta, WhistlePig Farm started aging rye whiskey stocks in 2008 and by 2010, they launched their first 10-year old rye whiskey.  With the help of the Master Distiller David Pickerell, the WhistlePig distillery is now averages 400 cases a day of bottle production.  The site itself is located in a picturesque area of Vermont and it is evident that WhistlePig has been successful in its business plan of expansion with a relatively new still house built in an early 1900’s barn.WHISTLE IV

WhistlePig Farm is not open to visitors currently, but we were lucky to make a visit as a member of the writing community that focuses on whiskey.  Our tour leader for the afternoon was Connor Burleigh, the operations manager of the distillery.  Connor started with an internship in 2014 and quickly moved from sales to operations a year ago.  He provided us with a great tour of the facility and tasting.

Our guide, Connor
Our guide, Connor

The WhistlePig business plan is interesting.  Since they source whiskey from different distilleries in Canada and the United States, they plan to stick to this source for the whiskies that have already become popular.  They believe that if they start to use the rye whiskey that they produced in-house, it would change the flavor profile and it would be a problem for consumers that are already accustomed to a certain taste.  They do want to create their own product in-house eventually, but it will not replace what they currently age from these different sources.  Most newer distilleries that we have visited in the U.S. have an end goal of just producing their own whiskey.  This is not the case with WhistlePig.  A different approach.

Here are some notes from our tour of the property and still house:

  • 1200 acres of farm land: 700 arable acres, 330 acres used for rye production, the rest rented out, grain stored off site
  • 30,000 barrels overall stored in various locations
  • rye whiskey sourced from 3-4 different distilleries both in Canada and the United States, Old World sourced from MGP in Indiana
  • 1% of hard wood in Vermont is white oak, we saw a variety of barrels including Madeira barrels, some with #4 char and toast
  • Old World is chill filtered in a milk tank
  • 1 week of production held in bottling tank
  • 600 bottles an hour / 400 cases a day, hand-labeled
  • California is the biggest market
  • WhistlePig rye found in 7 countries
  • new distillery opened in November 2015 in a barn built in the early 1900’s
  • 2-year legal battle to get barn ready for distilling
  • 750 gallon Vendome pot hybrid still
  • 1400 lbs of grain in the mash tank
  • 5 900 gallon fermentation tanks, 3-5 days of fermentation
  • 5-7 hours of run time for the still: 4-5 hours for the heart run, they do keep some heads, they keep the still running 18 hours a day, 5 days a week
Barrel House
Barrel House

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Oloroso Sherry Cask
Oloroso Sherry Cask
Bottling Area
Bottling Area
A new bottle
A new bottle

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Milk Tank
Milk Tank

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Mortimer, the still
One of the distillers
One of the distillers

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Mash and fermentation
Mash and fermentation
Fermentation tanks
Fermentation tanks

Connor provided us with a great tour of the facility.  It was a busy place with barrels being moved around and the still house in production.  Since the still has only been running since last November, they were experimenting with different runs, including some bourbon runs.  It will be interesting if they go this path at some point.  The restored barn that was converted into the new still house was incredible.  They had a huge open entrance perfect for hosting large groups and explaining the history of WhistlePig.  Upstairs they also had a large loft area that was perfectly set up for large parties or gatherings.

What would a distillery visit be without a tasting!  We had the privilege of tasting many of the different cask finishes that make up their products and the new 15-year old before release.  Quite amazing.  Here is a list of the 11 different tastes that we had, including a cognac aged in WhistlePig barrels:

  • 10-year old original rye, ABV 50%
  • Madeira finish – 4-6 weeks for most finishing – 12-year old
  • Sauternes finish
  • Port finish – double gold in SF spirits competition
  • Old World – 63% Madeira, 30% Sauternes, 7% Port finishes
  • Muscat finish – 4 months of finishing
  • Oloroso Sherry finish – over a year finished
  • Tokaji finish – Hungarian sweet wine – 2 months of finishing
  • Pedro Ximenez finish – 1 year of finishing
  • Pierre Ferrand XO cognac aged in WhistlePig barrels for 1 year
  • new release 15-year old, aged 6 months in Vermont oak, received a 97 in Wine Enthusiast magazine

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What a great experience to try all of these different finishes.  I do have to say that it became difficult after 5 or 6 of them to have a clean palate to taste, but we did our best.  This was the first time we have experienced what it takes to create a blend of rye whiskey.  It was sure a fascinating treat.  Thanks to Connor and the entire WhistlePig group for inviting us to visit with them and share with us their business plan and production.WHISTLE III

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Charles’ Notes:  This was an exciting visit for me.  I had just returned from a food tour in Miami where I saw WhistlePig in almost every bar and I was intrigued with how such a young distillery could be so popular across the U.S.  And it was fun to be invited to a place that is not yet open to the public.  The business plan of WhistlePig really made me think about what do distilleries want from their model.  Do they want to be real craft distillers where they make small in-house products that take years to develop?  Or do they want to find a business model that will sustain them for the future and allow them to experiment?  The fact that WhistlePig will continue to source never occurred to me until this visit.  But they want to maintain expectations.  Do other distilleries follow this plan?  It is an interesting direction.  They were gracious hosts and we enjoyed our visit to their farm.  I look forward to revisiting with them in the future.WHISTLE IX

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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

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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

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.

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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

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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

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New York Distilling Company

Visit #17, February 21, 2016NYD-I

Brooklyn is still hopping.  It was an unseasonably warm Sunday morning in February.  We made our way under the East River for brunch and spirit making.  There were lines at the restaurants as the weather made it too easy for people to eat.  But that didn’t deter us from getting to visit a distillery that was high on our list of NY state distilleries.  New York Distilling Company is located near McCarren Park in North Williamsburg.  It is an early adopter to the distillery scene in New York state along with Tuthilltown Spirits and a couple of others.  At just over 4 years old, it is the third oldest distillery in New York City.

You enter through their bar, the Shanty, a well-decorated spot with a large window overlooking the operations of the distillery.  Here we were welcomed by Selma, a whiskey connoisseur, who provided us a sample of their Ragtime Rye which had recently sold out.  There was time to wait due to a private tour being led by Allen Katz, co-owner of the distillery with his partner Tom Potter.  A sample of rye and a nice cold beer put us in a good frame of mind for our tour which was led by Max, the new bar manager of the Shanty.

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The tour started with an overview of the distillery and its products, gin and rye.  They only do gin and rye since these are true to New York history, with the creation of the cocktail in New York City.  Here are some of the notes from the tour as well as information that was collected through an e-mail exchange with Allen Katz:

  • Mash bill of rye – 72% rye, 16% corn & 12% malted barley
  • Ingredients sourced from the Pederson Farms near the Finger Lakes area of NY state
  • Whiskey production is seasonal – rye harvest is in June and July, and depending on the weather, corn harvest is usually in September
  • Rye is distilled in Brooklyn and at their second distillery in Upstate NY which is a facility that is co-owned with Black Dirt Distillery
  • Mash tank is heated using a steam jacket and is 3,000 liters
  • Two fermentation tanks also 3,000 liters each, fermentation takes between 3-5 days
  • The kettle still is 1,000 liters and comes from Germany, manufactured by Christian Carl
  • Average still run time: heads – minutes; hearts – depends on what they are distilling and can be several hours (gin can be 6-7 hours); tails – whatever is discarded at the end of the hearts run
  • Their goal is to fill 1,000 barrels of rye this year
  • Most of the barrels come from an independent stave company in Missouri and they also source some barrels from the Kelvin Cooperage in Kentucky
  • Barrels are stored both on site and at a second facility in Upstate NY – this gives them capacity to grow
    Still from Stuttgart
    Still from Stuttgart

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Max’s expertise, being the bar manager, was describing each product we tasted at the end of the tour.  Here is what we tasted:

  • Dorothy Parker American Gin – notes of hibiscus and elderberry
  • Perry’s Tot Gin – 57% ABV, the historical proof at which gunpowder could still be fired if soaked in spirit, ‘tot’ refers to the British measurement of alcohol
  • Chief Gowanus – New Netherland Gin – an old recipe from 1809 of American genievre, unaged rye whiskey distilled with juniper and hops, and then run though a third distillation, 3-6 months aged in an oak barrels
  • Rock & Rye – a marriage of young rye whiskey and rock sugar candy, aged 6 months to a yearNYD-XIIINYD-XV

What makes NY Distilling Company different as well is that it is situated right next door to Engine 229, Tower Ladder 146.  So throughout the tour it felt like we were part of the fire station as fire trucks were continually called out for service.  Not to mention the large flag hanging above the rafters, it was unmistakably New York City…   Overall, it was a great tour and experience.  Max and Selma made it for a great afternoon.  And, thanks to Selma for letting us sip some of the Ragtime Rye and the secret still of spirit located behind the bar.

Charles’ Notes: I was very much looking forward to getting to Brooklyn.  Coming down from Upstate NY and staying in Manhattan is always a tidal wave of energy that hits you when exiting Penn Station.  So it was nice to get over to Brooklyn and have a great brunch at the Brazilian restaurant down the street from the distillery, Beco.  I highly recommend this little spot.  Brought me right back to Brazil.  At the distillery, the Shanty was great and the tour was open and informative.  It was also nice to be able to communicate with Allen via e-mail afterwards to ask some questions.  I look forward to watching their growth and tasting more of their spirits in the future.NYD-XVI

The Albany Distilling Company

Visit #16, January 9, 2016

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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

ALBANY XII

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

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