It's upstate New York time, and I'm exuberantly adding the Hudson Whiskey distillery to my "must visit" (again) list.
Right as spring hesitantly broke over New York state, Hudson Whiskey offered me the opportunity to take a day trip up to the the micro distillery. My love of upstate destinations is well documented, plus I've developed a deep affection for whiskey cocktails, so off I went.
Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery, which creates Hudson Whiskey, is located about two hours from NYC in Tuthilltown, a small town near Poughkeepsie. While there, I learned about how to identify a sustainable and quality whiskey, plus enjoyed farm-to-table food, and of course, a whole lot of top quality alcohol. (And I have recommendations for nearby places to visit at the bottom of this post!)
What makes it a sustainable whiskey? It uses locally grown grain, including heirloom varietals, to create its range of whiskeys, including Baby Bourbon, Four Grain Bourbon, Manhattan Rye, New York Corn, Single Malt, and Maple Cask Rye. (More on that last one later.)
To drive the point home, we first stopped at Tantillo's Farm, which grows the corn, apples, pears, and plums that are integrated into both Hudson Whiskey's and other locally produced liquors' offerings. Starting a week ago, Tantillo's farm stand opened for the season, so you can stop by and grab some ice cream or produce.
Next we stopped at Tuthill House, a renovated grist mill, which was the longest running mill in New York State. The tasting room features a variety of local liquors, wines, bitters, and cocktail accessories.
After hanging out in the tasting room for a bit, we got a tour of the distillery.
Ralph Erenzo, a local climber, bought this property in 2001, with plans to turn it into a rock climber's ranch, a jumping off point for world-class climbers to tackle the nearby rocky cliffs. The neighbor's weren't so pleased with the idea of layabout climbers coming through (inaccurate as that portrayal is), so after a short, unsuccessful stint trying to run the mill for the local Amish with his business partner, Brian Lee, they cast around for another idea.
A small provision had recently been slipped into some state legislation bringing the fees for starting a distillery down from $70,000 to $1,500. So they decided to try distilling, bought a 100 gallon copper pot from Germany, and established the first legal distillery in New York State since Prohibition. Now, Hudson Whiskey puts out 500 gallons a day of finished spirit.
In 2005, whiskey was flowing again in Hudson Valley, but there's actually a long history of distilling in New York State. Applejack was the popular spirit. (We do love apples around here.) Erenzo himself has been instrumental in changes in New York law that make distilling easier and more profitable for farmers and small businesses, leading to a proliferation of New York State spirits of all kinds.
Our tour guide for the day was Han Shan, Hudson Whiskey's brand ambassador. Before he became a whiskey expert, he was an environmental and human rights campaigner, and artist.
The ingredients for the whiskey include whole New York grains – heirloom corn, wheat, rye – and a malted grain from Canada, since malted U.S. grains are hard to come by. The waste mash they send to local cattle farmers for feed. They have 53 large solar panels, provide 5 kW per hour, covering most of the distillery's electricity usage, plus the tasting room and a bit of the restaurant. They also have new electric car charging stations, so you can take your (or a rental) electric car up for the day.
The American oak barrels are cycled through the process. You can't call something bourbon if you've used the barrel more than once, so Hudson Whiskey ships them off to Scotland to be reused. Or they pass them off to a maple syrup maker, who passes them back over so they can make their Maple Cask Rye.
In 2012, a fire and explosion rocked the distillery. Nobody was hurt, and after rebuilding the distillery to be safer, with vents for the fumes and other safeguards, they used the charred barrels to create a limited-edition, double-charred whiskey. (This is why home distilling is illegal – you could blow up your home.)
Now Ralph's son, Gable, is experimenting making flavored liqueurs and spirits using this 1867 cognac distill.
I asked Han how we as consumers can identify high quality, sustainable whiskey. Especially when liquors don't have to list the ingredients. He said for U.S. whiskeys, to look for the words:
- Bottled in Bond
- Handmade and bottled by
- Distilled and bottled by
If those are on the bottle, you know who made it and where, and that it's not a label filled with whiskey from wherever. "There are a handful of well respected distilleries source whiskey and curate it, blend it, and they are transparent about it," Han said. So in that case, it's OK. But looking for those words is a guarantee. If it's made in the U.S. and says "whiskey" on it, you know that it's going to have grain, water, and yeast.
I asked about honey flavored whiskey, and he said if you look closely, you'll see that it says "whiskey flavored liqueur" on it. Scotches are allowed to add coloring. And in Canada, you can do anything. U.S. whiskey is the way to go.
After this grand tour, we sat down upstairs at the Tuthill House for a tasting. I personally preferred Hudson Four Grain bourbon – I thought it was the most approachable. Then we headed back downstairs for a farm-to-table lunch at the Tuthill House restaurant. By the way, they do weddings.
We were full and bordering on sloshed, but we had once more activity in store for us: making whiskey smashes.
A smash is a type of cocktail that brings whiskey out of the fireside season and into summer. You muddle together a fruit, an herb, a sweetener (simple syrup, ginger syrup, honey), and whiskey, finishing it with some ginger ale or soda, to create your own version. Tuthill House head bartender Patrick guided us through our experimentations.
On the way out of town, we stopped at Gable's bar in town, The Farm Bar, where we enjoyed one more cocktail made with local ingredients. How I wasn't blackout drunk at this point is beyond me. I felt quite proud of myself, especially since all the drinks were so delicious throughout the day!
Other Things to Do Nearby
- Stay at the Mohonk Mountain House. (22 minutes north) This grand, castle-like resort offers an abundance of sustainable, nature oriented activities and environmentally friendly features like geothermal heating, a green roof, and an award-winning spa that uses organic beauty products.
- Have breakfast at the Mudd Puddle Cafe at the Yard Owl Craft Brewery. (7 mins away)
- Go hiking in the Shawangunk Mountains.
- Have a sandwich and a drink at The Farm Bar at Gardiner Liquid Mercantile. (4 mins away)
- Get some ice cream and fresh produce from Tantillo's Farm. (8 mins away)
- Visit Angry Orchard (11 mins south) for a self-guided tour of the orchard and cider process.
- Take a stroll on the Walkway Over the Hudson. (27 mins west)
- Explore Storm King Art Center. (43 mins south)