Few spirits polarize as powerfully as gin. While some aficionados can’t fathom drinking a Martini made without it, others are quick to wrinkle their nose at its floral aromatics or aggressive spruce notes. Yet even the naysayers must admit gin’s history is a compelling one. Native to Holland, it first notoriously wreaked havoc across 18th-century England when it was dubbed “Mother’s Ruin.” During Prohibition, its cheap-to-produce allure saw harsh, crudely made versions flowing through America’s clandestine speakeasies. Negative circa-1920s image aside, gin is the star of many a classic cocktail — from the Aviation to the Gimlet — and after decades of being shunned in favor of vodka, it’s experiencing a much-deserved resurgence. Naturally, a few ambitious Hudson Valley distillers have responded to this overwhelming predilection for vintage tipples by producing their own small-batch versions of quality gin.
Perhaps the most well known of the distilleries is Tuthilltown Spirits in Gardiner. Its calling card may be the Hudson line of whiskies, but Half Moon Orchard Gin, uniting New York State-grown wheat and apples, is also a winner. “With the convergence of mixology and craft distilling, we are in the midst of a gin renaissance. Artisan distillers are toying with new botanicals and pushing the boundaries of what gin used to be. The bartenders have embraced this innovation,” explains distiller Gable Erenzo, whose father, Ralph, co-founded Tuthilltown a decade ago. “With significantly more variations ranging from simple juniper-forward styles to subtle juniper balanced with obscure or rarely distilled botanicals, consumers are finding their own sweet spots in the gin category.”
Notes of bergamot and nutmeg, for example, can be detected while sipping Half Moon Orchard. Likewise, Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery in Warwick marries herbs such as coriander, angelica root, and anise in its Rustic American Dry gin.
Another boon for regional distillers is access to a wealth of fresh ingredients. Consider Catskill Distilling Company in Bethel, where the liquor lineup includes Curious Gin crafted from locally grown juniper berries. In Germantown, Hudson Valley Distillers spawns its Clear Mountain Gin from nearby Hudson-Chatham Winery’s own wine.
“Gin makers, and, ultimately, consumers, have so much more variety with gin than vodka. For example, our gin is made from New York grapes and our botanical list includes Staghorn sumac foraged from our farm and organic cucumbers from a neighbor. It’s different. Similar to the concept of wine terroir, by using locally sourced spirits and botanicals, we can make a unique gin,” says co-founder Chris Moyer. “This gives people the ability to enjoy the slight variations between different gins in their drinks. A good gin cocktail enhances the gin maker’s creation rather than masking it.”
Left: Hudson Valley Distillers. At right: Bryan Ensall (kneeling) and John Glebocki, co-owners of Orange County Distillery in Goshen, handle everything at the distillery. Glebocki, who is also the owner of a fifth-generation family farm, acts as the farmer and “down-and-dirty guy.” Ensall, who also owns a lawn-care franchise, manages the business side. Together, they handle all the mashing, fermenting, distilling, aging, and bottling
Orange County Distillery, which debuted last fall in Goshen, is the only one allowed to showcase its gin in New York City greenmarkets because of its die-hard devotion to local ingredients. “We grow every single one. We have our own corn, barley, and sugar beets, and, because we grow our own botanicals, we decided to make our own gin,” says co-founder Bryan Ensall. Distilled from corn, this gin flaunts essences of citrus mint, lemon balm, and lavender, and the result is that it need not be savored only in cocktail form; Ensall encourages simply pouring it over ice. “[With] a lot of gins, it’s like you’re chewing on a pine tree,” Ensall points out. “Ours is a lot more neutral. You can actually taste the botanicals.”