This year marks two decades since the founding of Tuthilltown Spirits in Gardiner by Ralph Erenzo and Brian Lee, two novice distillers who wanted to put a historic gristmill complex to work making spirits from locally sourced apples and grain. Fittingly for such a milestone anniversary, there’s happy news on two fronts from the landmark property: the imminent culmination of a long-promised plan to market apple brandy and the launch of a weekly Farmers’ and Makers’ Market on the Tuthilltown property, beginning April 29 and running through autumn.
The Tuthilltown Spirits/Hudson Whiskey story has been a long, dramatic saga of epic ups and downs, right from the beginning when Erenzo had to spend much of his time in Albany lobbying to loosen New York State Liquor Authority restrictions on farm-based distilling and sales that had prevailed for more than 80 years. In 2005, Tuthilltown Spirits became the first new whiskey distiller in the state since the Prohibition Era.
By 2007, largely due to Erenzo’s advocacy work, the agency had created a new category called a Farm Distillery License, geared specifically toward fostering small-scale on-site distribution operations, and the State Legislature gave its blessing with the passage of the Farm Distilling Act. The idea caught fire, spurring a craft spirits renaissance in New York State, which by now is home to 220 distilleries.
By their own admission, Erenzo and Lee had no idea what they were doing at first, and learned the art of distilling on the job, with plenty of trial and error. But their products keep getting better and better, winning prizes in small-batch spirits competitions and reaching connoisseurs via top-shelf placement in trendy Manhattan and Paris restaurants. By 2010, Scotland’s William Grant & Sons, Ltd. had gotten wind of Tuthilltown Spirits’ success and bought the worldwide distribution rights for its Hudson Whiskey label.
Later that same year, Erenzo narrowly escaped death in a spectacular automobile wreck in Gardiner that left him comatose for weeks. Though kidney damage left him permanently unable to drink alcohol following the accident, he underwent a long rehabilitation process and remained actively involved with running the business. A fire damaged the distillery in 2012, but luckily none of the stills exploded.
In 2017, the owners sold the entire facility to William Grant & Sons. Erenzo and his son Gabe, who had become the distillery’s primary “brand ambassador,” stayed engaged as the public faces of the business – until Gabe’s shocking sudden death from an undiagnosed heart ailment in 2021.
Through all those roller-coaster years, part of the long-term plan was for Tuthilltown Spirits – which had been distilling vodka from cosmetically unappealing local apples from the get-go – to develop an apple brandy of a world-class level of excellence comparable to Calvados. Former production manager Joel Elder traveled to France in 2012 to learn the art from orchardists and distillers in Le Perche in Basse-Normandie: the center of the terroir where Calvados is made. Professional friendships were forged, and a French delegation returned the visit. The dream was for the Hudson Valley to become its own terroir one day.
Tuthilltown Spirits experimented and tested variations on the unaged apple brandy known as eau de vie, but until now, didn’t have a product good enough to market. That’s about to change, according to assistant visitor experience manager Nick Rose: “A Calvados-style apple brandy is definitely coming this year,” he told HV1 last week. No release date has yet been announced; we’ll let you know when we hear more about this long-awaited development.
In the meantime, besides the usual tours of the distillery, Tuthilltown Spirits is about to offer a new incentive to pay a visit to the site at Grist Mill Lane in Gardiner. Beginning on April 29 and running every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. through November, weather permitting, the facility will host what’s being called the Farmers’ and Makers’ Market at Tuthilltown Distillery. Vendors will include locally based “apiaries, sugarbushes, mushroom farms, crafters,” with an emphasis on farm-to-table products, according to marketing site ambassador Leann VanDerHeyden.
HV1 profiled VanDerHeyden and her startup the Knit. Coffee Company about a year into the COVID pandemic. She soon found that she wasn’t the only local maker who was using the lockdown period to launch a new entrepreneurial scheme, and began networking with others in the area who were doing something similar – “individuals doing what they love,” as she puts it. Once VanDerHeyden came on board the staff at Tuthilltown Spirits, it became clear that the distillery – which has a long history of hosting art festivals, outdoor concerts and other public events, not to mention the popular Taco Truck on-site seven days a week – would be the ideal location for a weekly gathering of crafters and suppliers of agricultural products.
“We want to showcase what the Hudson Valley has to offer, as well as what we have to offer,” VanDerHeyden said. “People want to experience the Hudson Valley. Since we are the whiskeycentric point of contact, we’re the logical place to host it… It’s a beautiful property offering a fun, interesting product, with a great history and great people.” The location for the Market, at least to begin with, will be a concrete patio about 100 by 200 feet, right in front of the actual distillery building. If the response from vendors is as enthusiastic as she’s anticipating, “We can grow up the hill into the upper parking lot… We have 36 acres!”
So far, different vendors are signing up for different parts of the spring, summer and fall, so visitors can come back multiple times and enjoy a varied experience. “Each weekend will be a slight evolution from other weekends,” VanDerHeyden said. She’s hoping to present “live music at some point,” plus craft demonstrations and workshops, including regular mixology presentations, samplings and tastings by Rose.
The Taco Truck will be a constant presence, and other vendors of agricultural products will likely be offering prepared foods for sale as well. One vendor who has already signed up is The Vegan Stuff, a manufacturer of vegan ice cream based in Beacon. “They’ll be making some boozy ice cream specials for us,” noted VanDerHeyden. “May 6 is Kentucky Derby weekend. I’m hoping for some mint julep ice cream!”
Distillery tours will go on as usual during the Farmers’ and Makers’ Market, perhaps even running more frequently if popular demand increases with site traffic. According to Rose, it’s usually possible to sign up for a tour on short notice. The grounds offer plenty of outdoor seating and room to explore, if Market attendees want to linger on-site while waiting for an afternoon tour to get underway. In summertime, there are even firepits for evening gatherings. The former Tuthill House at the Mill restaurant (the original 1788 gristmill building), with its large, welcoming cocktail bar, is now serving as the complex’s visitor center while the former tasting room is being renovated into an event space.
To learn more about what’s coming up at the Farmers’ and Makers’ Market at Tuthilltown Distillery on any given weekend, check out its website at www.tuthilltownmarket.com. For the cocktail bar menu and more details about Hudson Whiskey products, many of which can be purchased on-site at the Distillery only, visit hudsonwhiskey.com/en-US/distillery.