Are you a fan of locally crafted hard liquors, but a little put off by the pretensions of some boutique distilleries? Looking for a source with a more working-class aura? Catskill Mountain Moonshine just might have the snobbery-free vibe you seek.
Opened on February 26 by partners Irv Linzey and Allyson Barbaria, the new booze emporium at 31 Market Street is consciously pitching itself at folks who don’t necessarily expect their spirits to have been marinating in an oaken cask for 12 or 16 years. Their premium “aged” whiskey is only aged for 30 days.
“We’re a little different from a ‘normal’ distillery,” says Linzey. “Moonshine is now – make now, drink now. It’s meant to be made and shipped out as soon as possible.”
“Before you get caught,” adds Barbaria with a laugh.
Their website gets even more explicit about their rebellious branding approach: “Moonshining is a vocation that speaks to the American pioneer spirit. Its renegade reputation makes it alluring to consumers who want a little taste of tradition. It’s part of the American cultural heritage. It makes people feel a little outlaw, without breaking any laws.”
Presentation of CMM’s products reinforces this association with the Prohibition Era, in terms of both packaging design and the décor of the tasting-room space. You can fill a growler or buy their liquors in 375-milliliter bottles that have little round jug-handles, like mini-growlers. Mixed drinks are served at the bar in Mason jars, evoking the days when imbibers had to keep one eye out for a raid by the “revenuers.”
While it boasts more daylight than a Roaring ‘20s speakeasy, the storefront is also reminiscent of small-town gathering places of a century ago, when Legs Diamond and Dutch Schultz were busy bootlegging in the Hudson Valley. “It was originally a hardware store, then a pharmacy, then a soda fountain,” says Barbaria’s brother Louis, who’s also involved in the business.
According to Allyson, not much renovation was needed to achieve the vintage ambiance they wanted. The barroom features light oak flooring, slate grey and brown woodwork, recessed ceilings with areas of pressed-tin tiles, one side wall painted burnt orange and today’s menu scrawled on a blackboard wall in the rear. Pulley-driven ceiling fans hang over the marble counter of the L-shaped bar. Behind it, bottles and jars are displayed on deep shelving that evokes an old general store, and the swiveling barstools are upholstered in brown leatherette.
But the pièce de résistance is the shiny chrome vintage soda fountain setup, with rows of taps and spray dispensers that supply freshly carbonated seltzer for mixing cocktails. “People rave about our mixed drinks,” says Linzey. At prices ranging from $8.50 for a mojito to $15 for a Long Island iced tea, the signature cocktails add distinctive locally sourced touches to the spirits distilled in the back room. A slice of smoked apple garnishes the martini, for example, whether you choose gin or vodka – both made from apples grown in the Germantown/Hudson area.
The corn and barley used in CMM’s other liquors – corn whiskey in 80 or 100 proof, aged whiskey, maple whiskey and their best-selling honey whiskey – are also sourced in Columbia County. The honey comes from Hudson Valley Bees in Kingston and Andrew’s Maple Syrup from Mullen’s Farm in Saugerties. Beers from West Kill Brewing and Rip Van Winkle in Catskill, as well as wines from Thirsty Owl and cider from McKenzie’s, both in the Finger Lakes, are also available, along with non-alcoholic beverages.
There’s a kitchen in the back, where Allyson Barbaria presides, preparing an ever-changing menu of light fare that’s all gluten-free. Appetizers – marketed under the categories of “I’m Not Even Hungry” and “I’m Not That Hungry but I Could Eat” – ranged from nachos to a charcuterie plate and peanut butter sandwiches with jelly, Fluff or Nutella on the day Hudson Valley One visited. Lunch entrées included a meatball parmigiana hero and a Reuben, both served on flatbread. For St. Paddy’s Day, she made shepherds’ pie, to accompany a lethal-sounding specialty cocktail known as Irish car bombs.
The distilling room next to the kitchen features an array of copper stills specially made for Irv, who grew up as the scion of the family business Linzey Plumbing and Heating. He says that he took up distilling as a hobby when “my father had a slow few weeks, so I decided to experiment.” He had all the metal fittings he needed on hand to build his first still, noting, “The best moonshiner’s a plumber.”
Irv says he “used to play around a bit” making homebrewed beer and wine with Lou, before he went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee in 2019, when his son was playing in a youth football tournament with the Saugerties Outlaws. A tour to “a bunch of distilleries” got him thinking that making whiskeys on a commercial scale might be a fun second career, and he soon sold Lou on the idea. Allyson, who was ready to retire from a career in heavy equipment accounting, found the storefront: a building that had recently been bought by her previous employer, A. Montano, Inc.
It took a year-and-a-half for the partners to navigate the permitting process, but that gave Irv and Lou plenty of time for what Allyson calls “research and development” and Irv calls “trial and error.” “We came up with everything on our own,” says Lou.
You can check out the results yourself, Wednesday through Sunday from 4 p.m. to 10 or 11 p.m., depending on how late the crowd wants to linger. CMM also opens for lunch on Saturdays only, although hours are expected to expand as the weather warms up. The interior space seats 50 and can be booked for parties; another 50 can be accommodated in an outdoor seating area soon to be created in the building’s rear parking lot.
“We want everyone to feel welcome, to get together and have fun,” says Allyson. “With COVID, everyone’s been trapped in the house. Now you can come out and make new friends.”
To learn more about Catskill Mountain Moonshine, visit https://catskillmtnshine.com. Daily specials are posted on social media, including Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.