On a quiet stretch of 9W dotted by farms and vineyards, there is a corridor of Catholic institutions—historic monasteries, schools, and camps that have quietly existed along the river for over 100 years. Perhaps a bellwether of the times, one such building, an elegant Italian Renaissance Revival-style villa that can be glimpsed from the road, has found new life as a destination distillery, event venue, and, soon, boutique hotel operating under the name The Hudson House.
Constructed in the 1850s, the historic building sits on 27 riverfront acres and spent the last century as a monastery. When entrepreneurs Charles Ferri and Paul Seres purchased the property from the Vatican in 2015, they became the fourth owners ever.
“This project actually started prior to us looking for a property. It goes back about 10 years when Charles and I decided we were going to create whatever this was going to be,” says Seres, whose background is as a commercial director and branding consultant in the hospitality industry. “It took several iterations. But stumbling upon this property—it checked all our boxes.”
Despite finding the dream property—with sweeping vistas of the Hudson River and the Vanderbilt mansion across the way, development was anything but a dream. “We went through hell getting site approval,” says Ferri, who left Wall Street to branch out into hospitality. “The zoning wasn’t there. To do even just a simple project here would’ve been a large, tough task. But we wanted to make a first-of-its-kind destination distillery. There wasn't a reference point anywhere in the country for us to bounce ideas off of people—there was nothing. We had to push through uncharted territory.”
But the local planning commission and New York State saw the potential in the Hudson House—and in other similar projects that might follow—and worked to draft zoning text amendments that would pave the way for farm distilling licenses, event venues, and even the 25-room hotel that Hudson House will one day comprise.
The ground floor of the building houses the tasting rooms, ballroom, and bar. The guest rooms will occupy the two upper floors of the house, while the distillery is housed in the basement. The rollout will be staggered over the next two to three years. "We want to open in phases,” Ferri says. “We have this big project, everything has been approved, and we thought, maybe we should walk before we run.”
The distillery and tasting rooms are currently in a soft launch phase, with property tours running Fridays through Sundays from 12-6pm and a slew of upcoming events scheduled. The 5,000-square-foot ballroom and the kitchen will come online in 2022, with the hotel in two or three years.
“We do these tours—it’s not only a historical monastery tour, Ferri says. “We talk about every aspect of the building, show before and after photos of the interiors. And it’s also a distillery tour. We talk about how we do our blends to create the Black Creek products, why we use the glass that we use, which is made in the USA. The tours really give you the full process we went through.” And they’re a good deal to boot. For $20, you get an hour-long walking tour with a cocktail, followed by a whisky tasting on the sprawling, 5,000-square-foot deck overlooking the Hudson. (Don't forget to book ahead.)
In a tough blow to the partners and the project, the head distiller and local craft beverage royalty Gable Erenzo passed away earlier this summer. “Gable loved this project,” Seres says. “He worked with us for over two years. He designed everything—the whole distillery. He introduced us to Ralph, his father, who is now an investor and advisor to us. They were both poised to make this their next big project—it was their baby. Without Gable we were on a crash course to learn a lot of the stuff on our own.”
Seres and Ferri spent weeks in the basement fumbling their way through the assembly of the stills. (“There’s no instruction booklet to put distillery equipment together!” Ferri says). But they learned as they went. They’ve hired a distiller who most recently worked at Hillrock Estate and at Tuthilltown (which Ralph Erenzo founded) in its early days. Once the boiler is installed all the whisky will be produced on site. Luckily, Seres and Ferri had foresight to start their first batch years ago.
“We knew out of the gate that we were going to be looking for brown spirits,” Ferri says. The pair sat down with Brian McKenzie, founder of Finger Lakes Distilling, to design their first batch of whiskeys—a rye and a bourbon. “Right now, we’re blending barrels that we are pulling from those initial conversations and mash bills,” Ferri says. “Little did we know would take us six years. But in that time frame, we were smart enough to start building relationships. The hardest part with whiskey is time. The barrels are ready. We’re tasting them, and if they’re right, we’re pulling them down and doing the blends with our water here. That has worked out in a wonderful fashion. We couldn’t be happier with our first two expressions.”
The whiskeys, produced under the name Black Creek (a tribute to the nearby nature preserve), are small-batch, limited-edition, with numbered bottles. The next round will be different. “We really wanted to get into ‘drop’ culture,” Seres says. “If you don’t get it, you missed it—all limited editions.”
Hudson House is also partnering with nearby Millbrook Vineyards & Winery for their wine portfolio, and they’ve developed two house beers—an ale and a light lager—in collaboration with Mill House Brewing Company, which will also be running food pop-ups onsite in the coming weeks. “This is exactly the type of business we were looking for—a portfolio of brands that all support the central concept,” Seres says.
“This place is magical,” Ferri says. “There are stunning views, bald eagles soaring overhead. When you're here, the feeling you get is hard to explain. It was six years of hell but we are truly blessed. One way or another we kept pushing each other forward and we found a way to persevere.”
The Hudson House is open for tours and tastings Friday, Saturday, and Sunday 12-6pm. Book your tour online.
The Hudson House
1835 Route 9W, West Park, NY 12493