At around 10 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 24, an explosion and fire broke out on the second floor of the production building at Tuthilltown Spirits, located at 14 Grist Mill Lane in Gardiner. According to Robin Hayes, administrative coordinator at Tuthilltown Spirits, local fire companies responded quickly, and the fire was brought fully under control by 11:30 a.m. No one was injured, and the cause of the fire and the extent of the damage to the distillery are still under investigation.
“Upstairs was where the fire started,” said Hayes. “No one was right where the fire occurred. Happily, everyone is safe.”
Hayes said that early media reports exaggerated the event, creating the impression of a catastrophic explosion of stills containing alcoholic vapors under pressure. “It wasn’t really an explosion; it was a fire. The building didn’t explode. None of the stills exploded,” she said. “There was heat pressure, so a window broke.”
The Ulster County Sheriff’s Office reported that “a preliminary determination indicates no foul play involved and that a tank containing alcohol may have ruptured, causing the alcohol to come in contact with a heart source, igniting the fire.”
Hayes was reluctant to speculate as to what ignited the blaze. “The stills were going, so it could’ve been heat from the still. It could’ve been electrical.” She said that fire inspectors would make that determination, and that insurance adjusters would be visiting the site within a day or two to assess the cost of the damage. “That is the big question mark,” she said. “Next week we should know more.”
Considering how volatile alcohol is, it seems remarkable that the damage was not greater. In addition to the fact that most of the company’s products are stored in a separate building, Hayes attributed the relatively happy outcome to the rapid arrival of firefighters. “We have a lot of safety features in place, and an alarm system connected right to the Gardiner Fire Department,” she explained. “We had the Fire Department there pretty quickly. By the time someone called them to report the fire, they already knew about it.” According to the Sheriff’s Office, fire departments from Gardiner, New Paltz, Shawangunk Valley, Wallkill, Walker Valley, Modena and Clintondale all responded to the 911 call to fight the blaze.
Hayes seemed optimistic that “It won’t be too long until we’re up and running again.” There was fire damage to the roof, she said, but “Structurally, it’s totally fine. The sheetrock needs repair. The firefighters had to pull off the sheetrock to check for hot spots, so there’s a lot of cleanup to do. But the downstairs looks perfect — just a little sooty.”
“The stills should still be functional,” she added. “The equipment looks fine. The fire didn’t go on long enough to melt any parts. We were lucky.” Had the fire gone on long enough to do serious damage to the enormous copper stills, she admitted, “That would’ve been heartbreaking. The stills are beautiful, they’re expensive and they’re difficult to install. You kind of get bonded with your still.”
Until all the inspections are complete, no cleanup and repair efforts can get underway, Hayes noted. But in the meantime, “I think we can still do catch-up. We have a bunch of stuff in barrels and can keep on bottling.”
While tours of the distilling rooms are likely to be off for a while, “The tasting room and retail shop are still in operation,” Hayes noted. “Tell everybody, if they want to support Tuthilltown Spirits, come on out for a tasting, or to buy some of our products!”