October 26, 2011 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
On a perfect New England fall day a few weeks ago, I toured Tuthilltown Spirits, a Hudson Valley, NY artisanal or “craft” distiller of handmade spirits–some produced from apples grown at orchards less than 5 miles away and grain harvested by farmers within 10 miles. My husband and I first discovered Tuthilltown’s Hudson Baby Bourbon when we visited the New York State Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua, New York a few years back. This led to a search for the bourbon, which at the time was not widely available.
Before Prohibition, there were more than 1,000 New York farm distillers producing alcohol from the state’s grains and fruits. Tuthilltown brings the tradition of small batch distillation back to the Hudson Valley, distilling whiskeys which were the first legally distilled in New York since Prohibition. The handmade spirits, which start at the farm distillery as raw grain and fruit, are made without any additives and are not chill or carbon filtered.
Bottling an Idea
Here’s a bit of history: For 220 years, Tuthilltown Gristmill, built in 1788 by Selah Tuthill and now a landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places, used waterpower to render local grains to flour. In 2001 Ralph Erenzo and Vicki Morgan acquired the property hoping to build a B&B-type refuge for the many hikers and climbers who flock to the Gunks, aka the Shawangunk Mountains, one of North America’s major and most popular rock-climbing areas. But the neighbors disapproved and the Erenzo-Morgan plan was denied. Just as the couple began exploring the idea of starting a small, artisan distillery using locally grown ingredients–in what one might call divine intervention–New York State relaxed its licensing requirements. The cost of a license dropped from an exorbitant $65,000 to a mere $1,500. With the help of partner Brian Lee, Erenzo and Morgan changed courses and converted one of the mill granaries to a micro-distillery.
Baby Bourbon is Born
Two and a half years later, and after much trial and error, Tuthilltown Spirits produced their first batches of vodka using scraps collected from a local apple slicing plant. Now the farm distillery also produces rum, eau de vie, brandy, absinthe, and infusions. We took the 90 minute tour, led by the vivacious Cordel, whose background in biochemistry and theater make him both knowledgable and surprisingly entertaining.
Before I was properly informed, I thought the spirits labeled Baby Bourbon were named that because of their diminutive bottles. What did I know? It’s called Baby Bourbon because it’s distilled in special small American Oak “baby” barrels which reduce the distilling time and produce, in the distiller’s words, a “mildly sweet, smooth spirit with hints of vanilla and caramel.” Inspired by Erenzo’s memories of his pharmacist grandfather, all of Tuthilltown’s aged spirits are bottled in these small apothecary-type bottles, each hand waxed and numbered. For 15 bucks, you get the tour, can taste three varieties, and take home your whiskey glass. One can tour without tasting (but why would you?) or taste without touring. Tours are offered Saturdays and Sundays at 12pm, 2pm and 4pm by reservation.
Local Victuals at the Mill
It’s a beautiful day trip from the city. The distillery is steps from Tuttlehouse at the Mill, a restaurant that sits on the banks of the Shawangunk Kill with an outdoor deck overlooking the creek and waterfall. The Gabriello family bought and restored the place in 2006 after they made a permanent move back to their home outside New Paltz, New York, to which they had been escaping for many years.
The day we visited, the kitchen had been overwhelmed by autumn leaf peepers. The chef had shut down for an hour to regroup just as we arrived starving and ready to order a burger. We whetted our appetites further with some local spirits on the scenic deck while waiting for a table. When we did finally place our orders, our sweet waitress returned looking pained as she informed us they were out of burgers. I think it was an unusual day at the Mill, but the tastings and views were worth the trip.
All photos: Robin Plaskoff Horton