A week before his untimely death on April 26 at age 41, Gable Erenzo posted a photo on his Facebook page of Ingenuity, the tiny helicopter that the rover Perseverance brought to Mars. “What an incredible time to be alive!” he commented, with characteristic enthusiasm.
Judging by the outpouring of shock, grief and dismay at the news of his passing from family members, lifelong friends or new business acquaintances he’d made in his travels as brand ambassador for Hudson Whiskey, that irrepressible spirit spilled over into everything Gable did – whether it was investing in cryptocoin or nanodistilling eau de vie from local apples. “His bold personality, genuine warmth and sense of humor brought joy to anyone he encountered,” the Tuthilltown Spirits team posted on Facebook the day after Gable’s sudden demise.
“He charmed everyone he met and inspired almost everyone with his infectious lust for life, fun and compassion. He was a saint in so many ways that I think we should have a Gardiner Gable Day,” his friend Andy Collen told Hudson Valley One.
Gable had been a familiar face around Gardiner since his father Ralph Erenzo, a rock climber, came to town in 2001 with a plan to turn the old Tuthilltown gristmill into a campground catering to climbers. That concept didn’t sit well with neighbors, so in 2003 Ralph and his friend Brian Lee decided to take up distilling instead, and Gable was recruited to join the project. “I told him, ‘I’m building a distillery – I need your help!’” Ralph recalled.
Home-birthed in 1980 in South Windham, Maine, Gable split his childhood between his father’s place in New York City and the home of his mother, Kathy Upham, in Mahopac following his parents’ divorce. He has two younger stepsiblings, Baret and Loryn Upham, from his mother’s second marriage. According to Ralph, Gable’s teenage years were “strained,” but he found a new outlook on life through the Walkabout Education program, an experiential alternative high school. Following a service internship on an indigenous reservation in New Mexico, Gable “came back a changed man,” Ralph said.
At the time of Tuthilltown Spirits’ founding, Gable was attending the University of Colorado, where he met the woman he was to marry, Cathy Warburton. “He was going to join the Peace Corps and go to American Samoa, but they withdrew the assignment,” Ralph remembered. Unsure what to do next with his life, Gable responded to his father’s call for help, building Tuthilltown Spirits and learning the art of distilling from the ground up while he finished his formal education with a degree in Business Management at SUNY New Paltz.
The saga has been told many times, in these pages and elsewhere, of how that effort by complete amateurs to revive farm-based microdistilling in New York State, for the first time since Prohibition, ended up creating a new business model and kicked off a nationwide infatuation with artisanal cocktails. Suffice it to say that by 2006, Ralph was tired of running up to Albany to lobby for legal changes and down to the Big Apple to hawk his wares, and Gable took over for him as “brand ambassador” for Tuthilltown Spirits. In that line of work, visiting bars, restaurants and liquor stores and attending trade shows for bartenders all over the country, the gregarious young man (self-described as “convivial in disposition” on his Indeed profile) found his niche, surrounded by other entrepreneurs close to his own age with an appreciation for farm-to-table foods and beverages. By 2013, American Whiskey Magazine had named Gable Erenzo American Whiskey Ambassador of the Year.
British distiller William Grant & Sons, Ltd., maker of single-malt scotches Glenfiddich and Balvenie, purchased the Hudson Whiskey line in 2010, and completed its acquisition of Tuthilltown Spirits in 2017. Gable stayed on in Grant’s employ for three years as Hudson Whiskey brand ambassador, but he had some pet projects to pursue – notably a desire to create a terroir in the Hudson Valley for an apple brandy that could compete with the venerable French Calvados. He and Cathy had also gotten involved in raising foster children, one of whom, Jesse, now four, they were eventually able to adopt. “I have never seen him happier than when he was with his boys. He’s a wonderful father,” said Ralph.
Ready to spend more time with his growing family, Gable left the travel-intensive ambassador position in 2015 to create the downtown social hub and emporium for “hyperlocal” food, spirits and other products known as Gardiner Liquid Mercantile. On the production side of the business, he was distilling locally sourced apple brandy in a trailer-mounted mobile alembic still that is mostly based at the Kettleborough Cider House at Dressel Farms. When the COVID pandemic hit and Gardiner Liquid Mercantile had to become a takeout-only operation, he spearheaded a volunteer effort to convert apples, originally intended for brandy, into hand sanitizer to be donated to local hospitals and first responders.
According to his father, in his last years, Gable was “being groomed by the county executive and another person here in town to run for county legislator. But he didn’t want to take too much time from his family.” He did, however, accept an offer from Charles Ferri, the owner of Star Vodka, to become the chief distiller at the Hudson House in Esopus. This combination distillery, hotel and wedding venue is slated to open this June in the former Christian Brothers monastery on the banks of the Hudson River in Esopus. Gable had already designed the distillery setup and come up with the recipes for the house brands, Black Creek Bourbon and Black Creek Rye.
“He literally was starting employment last Monday. He passed away the night before,” Ferri told Hudson Valley One. “It kills me that we’re about to open this for the world to see, and the key person won’t be there.” Ferri said that he and his wife had spent time with Gable on the Friday just before his death, and that he had “seemed a little off” after a brief hospital visit with chest pains.
Ralph Erenzo confirmed that Gable had been exhibiting symptoms characteristic of esophageal problems or gastric reflux in the week prior to his death. The true issue proved to be something much more serious: An autopsy revealed the cause of death to be thoracic aortic dissection, a tear in the layers of the aorta that caused internal bleeding. “He lay down with his kids to watch a movie and fell asleep. Cathy found him dead the next morning,” his father explained.
After being closed for several days in mourning, Gardiner Liquid Mercantile has reopened, and Ralph reported that Cathy – “a real trouper” – will continue running both the retail business and the nanodistillery. “The license is being switched to her name.” She will also continue the adoption process for the couple’s two-year-old foster son. To assist the family through this difficult transition, Gable’s stepbrother Baret Upham has set up a crowdfunding page with a $50,000 goal at www.gofundme.com/f/the-gable-erenzo-legacy-fund.
Meanwhile, the tributes to Gable Erenzo continue to pour in. Gardiner resident Susanrachel Condon told Hudson Valley One, “What I remember about Gable is his overall warmth and devotion to the community. Whenever I was at the bar, he could be seen walking around and checking in to make sure everyone was happy. But he would actually stand at the tables and talk to you – not small talk, real talk – and it seemed like everyone knew him. I’m a midwife and one night, early in the pandemic, my colleague and I were on our way home from a birth and we decided to stop by and have a drink, which was very rare. We sat outside and Gable made a fire in the back. Things were kind of quiet, so he hung out with us for a while and told us he was a fan of midwives, and we thoroughly enjoyed his easy company.”
Another Gardiner neighbor, Jaynie Marie Aristeo, shared this recollection: “I met him a long time ago when he and Ralph were working hard to get their Tuthilltown business going. We became business friends through GAB [Gardiner Association of Businesses]. Several years ago, when Gable had a dream to create Gardiner Liquid Mercantile, I was able to work directly with him, to help him purchase the building at 128 Main Street. That is when we became real friends. Many evenings spent at the Merc chatting about life, family, dreams et cetera. He was an amazing person who was full of love for his family and community. His beautiful smile will certainly be missed daily on Main Street.”
Clearly, for so many, any time spent in the company of Gable Erenzo was “an incredible time to be alive.”