Why should holiday spirits end with the holidays? While vineyard tours seem like more of a summer and autumn pursuit, winter is a great time to explore the Hudson Valley’s burgeoning crop of microdistilleries. A shot of whiskey in a steaming cup of tea or hot cider is a time-honored custom for warming the cockles of one’s heart on a chilly, dismal day, and the prospect of adding a new bottle to one’s collection of locally produced liquor should serve as stimulus enough to venture out-of-doors this time of year.
The perfect site to begin your voyage of discovery is the place that sparked the trend for farm-based distilleries to make their historic recent comeback in New York State: Tuthilltown Spirits in Gardiner, home of the Hudson Whiskey line and an ever-growing number of other alcoholic beverages made from locally grown produce. Company founder Ralph Erenzo wanted to make small-batch artisanal vodkas from Ulster County apples, and ended up having to lobby the State Liquor Authority to change its license categories to include farm distilleries (and make the licensing fee more affordable for small operations). Largely due to Erenzo’s efforts, the rules were changed in 2008 – for the first time since the Prohibition Era – and microdistilleries have been popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm throughout the state ever since.
Tuthilltown Spirits’ operations take place in what were once the rustic outbuildings of an 18th-century water-powered gristmill on the Shawangunk Kill, with splendid views of the Gunks. There’s a cozy gift shop and tasting room, open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 12 noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday. There, small groups assemble every hour on the hour from noon to 5 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday for guided tours of the facility. “You can either book online, call us or walk in the same day, and we’ll get you on the next tour with open availability,” says tasting room manager Eric Arginsky.
The tours visit each step of the distilling process, from grain bins to bottling, and feature detailed explanations of what’s happening to what product at each stage. The centerpiece is a massive 540-gallon still with shiny brass and copper fittings that looks like it’s designed to power a Victorian submarine or airship out of a Jules Verne novel; they had to cut a big hole in the barn roof just to drop it into place. It’s great fun to see up close, and will bring home the true meaning of “small-batch” as you realize that there’s only room for them to make one kind of booze at a time.
Despite the limited scale, Tuthilltown Spirits is constantly tinkering with new product lines. The Hudson Whiskey line, distributed worldwide by William Grant and Sons, includes the well-established Baby Bourbon, Four Grain Bourbon, Single Malt Whiskey, New York Corn Whiskey and Manhattan Rye Whiskey, plus the more recently innovated Maple Cask Rye Whiskey. Last year, both ryes and the Baby Bourbon won Bronze Medals at the American Craft Spirits Awards.
Also in 2016, the Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery was selected for a 2016 Gardiner Small Business Excellence Award in the Tours category. Tastings.com awarded Gold Medals in its vodka competition to Tuthilltown’s Indigenous Fresh Pressed Apple Vodka, Indigenous Empire State Wheat Vodka and Half Moon Orchard Gin. The apple-derived gin also received a rating of 95 on a scale of 100 (“Exceptional”) in the Spirits category of the 2016 Ultimate Beverage Challenge. Introduced in 2013, Half Moon Orchard Gin swept the 2014 Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition, winning both Best of Division and Best of Category, not to mention a Silver Medal for Packaging Design.
There are specialty lines as well: award-winning Basement Bitters; a bracingly herbal, unsyrupy crème de cassis made from Hudson Valley-grown blackcurrants; a heavenly cacao liqueur that floats on the tongue like a chocolate cloud. For $15, you can sample a flight of your choice of five Tuthilltown products at the end of your tour – or just take the tour without the tastings for $12. Kids under age 12 can tag along for free. And next Saturday, January 28 from 1 to 5 p.m., there will be a special guest cidery on hand: Fishkill-based Pitchfork Hard Cider’s team will be at Tuthilltown offering free tastings.
To reserve a Tuthilltown Spirits weekend tour, call (845) 255-1527 or visit www.tuthilltown.com. The distillery is located at 14 Gristmill Lane in the Tuthilltown hamlet of Gardiner.