Casks along the Crag

Malting is an art in and of itself. The grain has to be moist enough to initiate germination, but not so moist as to saturate the endosperms. Temperature, ventilation and timing must also be precisely balanced.

Did you ever peer down from atop Bonticou Crag in the Shawangunks – one of the mid-Hudson’s grandest outings [] – and wonder what lucky persons get to live near the bottom, with that view in their back yard? Or bicycle past the Crag’s foot along the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail and envy the local farmers?

Such ponderings can be satisfied and washed down with a shot of exquisite locally made whisky at Coppersea Farm, located at 239 Springtown Road on New Paltz’s northern frontier. Open to visitors, it’s home to the “grain-to-glass” operations of Coppersea Distilling. And yes, Bonticou Crag is directly in this farm’s back yard. On the rare “field days” when chief distiller Christopher Williams mows and marks a trail for the agricurious to inspect the 75-acre “grainshed” where he raises Danko rye in the winter and regional “landrace” corn in the summer, you can get up close enough to experience a visceral understanding of why one of Coppersea’s products is named Bonticou Crag Straight Single Malt Rye.


Even from the environs of the roadside tasting room, the Springtown Tavern, it’s an imposing backdrop. At the most recent Farm & Field Day, August 10, visitors ambled about playing lawn games like horseshoes and cornhole, or hopped up into Eric Hansen’s mobile Hudson Valley Hatchet trailer to try their hand at axe-throwing. The more serious connoisseurs of spirits congregated at the bar to sample a flight of Coppersea’s offerings. Choosing a favorite isn’t easy; they’re all complex and delicious in very different ways.

Those who want to know more about the creative process here are free to peer into the cool, dimly lit interiors of the barns where grain is raked over a wooden platform for malting, fermented in vats and distilled in traditional direct-fired alembic copper pot stills. The heady scent of fermentation hangs in the quiet air, and you realize that you’re seeing the way how whisky was made in the days before the Industrial Revolution: from locally sourced ingredients, in small batches, by hands-on labor, with no mechanical or chemical shortcuts. Lovingly.

Williams and his colleagues at Coppersea are fervent believers in what he calls “heritage methods” of distillation, designed to imbue their spirits with the mysterious essential oils that give them distinctive flavors, redolent of a particular terroir. He points out that such subtle flavor notes are sacrificed by industrial distillery operations that focus on maximizing yield by minimizing fermentation and distillation time. Two of Coppersea’s products, Big Angus Green Malt and Green Malt Rye, even utilize the extremely rare “green malting” method, in which the sprouting grain is ground while still wet rather than dried out in a kiln first. Their bright, grassy, briny, herbaceous flavor profiles will surprise and delight you. Two other products, Excelsior Straight Bourbon and the brand-new four-year-old Excelsior Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon, are made exclusively from New York State-sourced ingredients, right down to the Adirondacks-grown white oak casks in which they are aged.

Coppersea Distilling whiskies are available from many local liquor stores, bars and restaurants, and can also be ordered online at To sample them at the source – not to mention purchase a bottle, or some pork cuts from the Gloucestershire Old Spot heritage-breed pigs that are raised on the farm and fattened on stillage mash – you can visit the Springtown Tavern from noon to 7 p.m. Fridays through Sundays. By calling (845) 444-1044, you can make an appointment to visit between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and maybe even arrange for a guided tour.

The next big public event at Coppersea Farm will be a collaboration with the Wallkill Valley Land Trust (WVLT), stewards of the abovementioned rail trail that bisects the property. It’ll be this year’s setting for WVLT’s annual autumnal Conservation Celebration, this year with the theme of “Bike, Bourbon and Brunch.” It will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday, October 6, featuring a tour of the distillery and a five-spirit tasting flight, along with food, music and other activities. Coppersea will donate five percent of bottle sales that day to WVLT. While participants will be encouraged to arrive by bike via the rail trail, automobile parking is also available on-site. Save the date now, and check out later on for updates regarding admission and ticketing.

“Coppersea could not align better with us – in terms of mission and representing the importance of conserving open space, rail trails and farms,” says WVLT president Beth Bengtson.  “The portion of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail where Coppersea is located is one the most scenic along the trail, and a favorite among our rail trail users,” agrees WVLT executive director Christie DeBoer. “From a mission perspective, partnering with a business that ‘walks the talk’ in regard to open space and farm preservation makes the event even more significant.”

For Coppersea’s part, “We are huge advocates of the Trust and the trail,” says Williams. “It’s a very symbiotic relationship.”

Coppersea Farm
239 Springtown Rd., New Paltz