It’s the holiday season, so we’re all thinking festively, right? We’ll be throwing or attending parties, and we have to think of gifts for friends and neighbors. A bottle often fits the bill perfectly, so many will be bought, given, and consumed in the coming month. For those who like the hard stuff—or have friends on their list who do—there are a number of new and exciting products made by talented distillers in the Hudson Valley. Any fan of spirits has extra reason to rejoice this winter.
The modern local spirit industry began with Ralph Erenzo and Brian Lee of Tuthilltown Spirits. Their pioneering efforts helped to pass the New York Farm Distillery Act in 2007, allowing farms to distill and sell alcohol on their properties. Tuthilltown quickly gained a reputation for high quality small-batch whiskies, especially their Manhattan Rye and Baby Bourbon. They also produce two apple vodkas (twice- and thrice-distilled), some seriously moonshiney corn whiskey, and rum—the only one of their line made with nonlocal ingredients (the molasses comes from Louisiana). Tuthilltown’s efforts are not cheap—about $40 gets you one of their trademark squat 375 ml bottles—but there’s no small amount of pleasure to be had in the drinking or gifting of them. And the heavy lifting that Erenzo and company have done has made it possible for a new crop of microdistillers to begin diversifying and expanding the region’s range.
The Mighty Catawba
Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery makes a wide variety of products; hard cider is their biggest seller, followed by wine. For the last five years or so, co-owners Jason Grizzanti and Jeremy Kidde have also been producing the American Fruits line of liqueurs and brandies. The sweet ones—liqueurs and cordials—are excellent choices for sipping with a dessert or mixing in cocktails. A standout is the Apple Liqueur, a blend of lightly fermented cider mixed with their apple brandy and aged in Bourbon barrels, which has the complexity of a good Port and matches well with desserts from fruit tarts to chocolate cake.
American Fruits also makes brandies, offering old-world standards like apple and pear eau de vie in addition to black currant brandy and Grappa made from a mixture of Baco Noir and Catawba grapes. Their eaux de vie are fine examples of the craft, with rich fruit aroma and a clean finish. The apple brandy is aged in American oak for two years, and a five-year-old batch is now ready; their ultimate goal is to release a blend each year with an average of five years of barrel age, including some aged in charred bourbon barrels to add more caramel notes and deeper color with an eye towards rivaling Calvados, the great apple brandy of France. The grappa is unique; the local hybrid grapes—especially the Catawba—possess the characteristically foxy aroma of native fruit that’s totally unlike the traditional Italian varieties.
Other noteworthy local black currant cordials (Cassis) are made by Ray Tousey—sweetened with honey instead of sugar—in Clermont, and Clinton Vineyards in Clinton Corners. Any of these liqueurs would make a splendid holiday aperitif when mixed with a local sparkling wine. Kidde from Warwick Valley suggests adding a bit of local honey, too, then the Cassis, then topping up the glass with bubbly to make for a beautifully increasing gradient of fruit and sweetness as the glass is emptied.
No Apple Left Behind
Golden Harvest Farms on Route 9 in Valatie looks like a thousand other roadside farm stands in New York. But behind the store, there’s a sign that reads “Distillery.” Inside, Derek Grout is producing 500 bottles a month of excellent vodka made entirely from apples grown right there on his family’s farm. Using a beautiful German still, he’s also making apple and pear brandies and an Apple Jack—brandy aged for a year in American oak—is out this month. All are bottled under the Harvest Spirits label. Grout’s Core brand of vodka is crystal clear, unctuously textured, and has an elegant trace of apple on the finish. It’s real sipping vodka, offering more pleasure by itself than many well-known luxury brands, and seems suited to experimental mixing with other high-quality local tipples rather than juices or anything that would mask its qualities. The brandies are good, though Grout admits that he’s still learning the ropes; the first batch was made with fermented juice, while the next will be made by fermenting crushed whole fruit for a much richer and subtler flavor. (Warwick’s are made with crushed whole fruit.)