His real name was Arthur Flegenheimer, but history remembers him as Dutch Schultz: an infamous Bronx-born bootlegger and racketeer who made a fortune in the ’20s and ’30s. Among his investments was a distillery that he financed during the waning years of Prohibition, located out of sight underneath Harvest Homestead Farm in Pine Plains. Less than a mile from the town center, the farm concealed the underground operation from authorities long enough that thousands of gallons of illegal booze were produced there. Springhouses supplied water from underground aquifers, and a swimming pool served as a cooling reservoir.
When federal agents raided the place in October 1932, they found a vast network of interconnected concrete tunnels designed for quick exits, along with holding tanks and underground bunkers large enough to contain three trucks and a Lincoln sedan. The FBI destroyed all the equipment and supplies that had been used to make the moonshine – high-pressure boilers, 2,000-gallon stills, 15,000 gallons of mash and 10,000 pounds of sugar – and the distillery went dry.
Eighty-four years later, that Prohibition-era bootlegging business has become the inspiration for the Hudson Valley’s newest “farm-to-bottle” agritourism destination. Dutch’s Spirits at Harvest Homestead Farm opened to the public in July. A three-story, 12,000-square-foot Dutch barn has been built around the entrance to one of the original tunnels, which can be viewed inside on a tour. The barn houses a bar and tasting room on the main floor, featuring craft beverages made by more than 75 New York State-based producers, and a farm market on the top floor sells New York State artisanal food products: honeys, jams, syrups, sauces, pastas, grains and the like.
And a new distillery being built in the footprint of the original bunkhouse site is nearing completion. While it’s not currently operational, visitors can see all the equipment used in the distilling process. The original stills and boilers were destroyed in the 1932 FBI raid, but some peripheral things were left untouched, including air vents and bottle-holders. “Right now people can visit one very big bunker where the bulk of the operations were – big enough to hold 200 people – and look into the entrances to various tunnels throughout the property,” says company CEO Lydia Higginson. “For liability issues, I don’t believe we’ll ever be able to take people into the tunnels, but the bunker has been reinforced and is safe.”
The farm’s owner at the time of the raid was a retired New York City policeman, which likely played a part in his not receiving any jail time for harboring Dutch’s distillery. He reverted the property back to its turkey-farm origins and then sold the land to a German group who ran an “old-age commune” at the site, which didn’t last. The property was then used as a guest house and retreat, later a slaughterhouse, and finally, in 1969, was purchased by Janet and Charles Adams.
The farm was in the Adams family since 1969. Alex’s grandfather, Charles, knew full well what was underground when he purchased the property with his wife, Janet. As a young man, Charles had worked at Harvest Homestead Farm during Prohibition as a “potato harvester” at the distillery.
The site was recently added to the New York State Archaeological Inventory as a “Bootleg Era Bunker Complex,” and the state Historic Preservation Office has included it on the New York and national Registers of Historic Places. Care has been taken to preserve the surrounding farm and wetlands, as well as the remains of the original distillery site.
The tunnels and bunkers under the Pine Plains farm were largely forgotten for decades after the raid that closed the distillery down, until 2008, when passage of state legislation made it feasible for farm breweries and distilleries to conduct artisanal beverage businesses. Friends Ariel Schlein and Alex Adams co-founded Dutch’s Spirits at Harvest Homestead Farm in 2010.
Dutch’s Spirits produces its own line of products. Currently they’re made at facilities elsewhere in the state, but the long-term plan is to become a self-sustaining farm specializing in small-batch artisanal handcrafted spirits made on-site using farm-sourced ingredients.
The variety of uniquely flavored cocktail bitters includes a blend called ProhiBitters, made with licorice, hibiscus, ginger root and coriander. Boomtown Bitters combines sarsaparilla and wintergreen. A do-it-yourself tonic kit allows making one’s own tonic water using all-natural ingredients, and the handcrafted peach brandy is made with state-grown peaches in traditional 19th-century style. Each bottle is hand-labeled and numbered.
Dutch’s Spirits’ signature product is New York Sugar Wash Moonshine, a handcrafted tribute to Schultz’s hooch made in small batches with aroma notes of cut grass and butterscotch. The Sugar Wash Moonshine has been on the market for four years, selling well enough that it has been sold out lately, the demand for it surpassing the capability to produce it. “We’ll be ready to release it again,” says Higginson, “along with our bourbon [made with corn from the farm] that’s been aging for two years in barrels.”
Higginson, formerly a director and vice president of Dutchess Tourism, says that interest in visiting the historic site has already surpassed their expectations. On opening day, they expected perhaps 100 to 150 visitors, but 600 showed up. (Fortunately parking on the 400-acre site is not an issue.) She is currently in the process of refining and expanding the distillery tours. Next year, the cost will likely rise a bit; but for the time being, $1 buys the visitor a tour and three samples of craft beverages in the tasting room (the maximum allowed by law under their current licensing). All of the products sampled can be purchased in the storefront on-site.