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

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

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    Kothe Still
    Kothe Still

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    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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.