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
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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

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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

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.

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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

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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.