When Ralph Erenzo purchased the Tuthilltown Gristmill in Gardiner back in 2001, he didn’t intend to open a distillery; he planned to turn the property into a campground for rock climbers who visit the nearby Shawangunk Mountains. But after years of legal battles with neighbors who weren’t fond of his idea, Erenzo searched for an alternate option. It was when he discovered a little-known law from 2000 that allowed micro-distilling at a dramatically reduced permit fee, so long as the producer was making less than 35,000 gallons a year, that he was instilled with some new inspiration.
In 2003, Erenzo partnered with Brian Lee to officially start Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery, and together, they unintentionally became pioneers of the New York State craft beverage industry.
Hudson Whiskey is one of the local spirits poured at Tuthilltown Distillery alum Gable Erenzo’s Gardiner Liquid Mercantile (left); Tuthilltown features an on-site eatery serving local fare (like the beet and turnip plate, seen right).
At the time they started, Tuthilltown was one of the only farm-based distillers in the state, and neither Erenzo nor Lee had any previous experience in distilling — in fact, none of the employees at Tuthilltown Spirits have had a background in distilling. “We all started from scratch,” remarks Erenzo. “We educated ourselves and taught each other.”
By 2005, the facility was in full swing, and 2006 saw the incarnation of Tuthilltown’s first whiskey, Hudson Whiskey Baby Bourbon, making the distillery the first in the state to produce the stuff since the 1920s. The spirit was so successful, in fact, that William Grant & Sons, the third largest producer of Scotch whiskey in the world, later acquired the Hudson Whiskey brand.
Fully entrenched in the state’s distilling initiatives, Erenzo then launched and managed a three-year lobbying effort in connection with the State Liquor Authority on the development of the 2007 Farm Distillery Act. Its passage permitted farm-based distilleries equal opportunity with wineries and breweries to allow tours, tastings and direct sale of products to customers: a first for New York distillers.
Further legislation permitting full-size pours of their products without a separate license and granting the ability to sell other state-produced libations was passed in 2014, and soon allowed them to expand even more. The possibility to open and operate a satellite restaurant or food and drink establishment was also awarded at that time, and because of that, there’s plenty for guests to do at the distillery today.
Tours take visitors behind the scenes to learn how Tuthilltown Spirits are made, while the Tasting Room offers a guided sampling through their collection of spirits — including Hudson Whiskey, Indigenous Vodka, Half Moon Orchard Gin, and Tuthilltown Liqueur — all of which are handmade and batch-distilled, making each one unique and unrepeatable.
Guests can also enjoy inventive cocktails inspired by the surrounding area (like the Beet Poet, made with walnut- and pistachio-infused Indigenous Empire Wheat Vodka, local beets, black peppercorn, fresh lemon, and ginger) and a delicious meal at the on-site restaurant — Tuthill House at the Mill — located in the 1788 historic gristmill building. The spot boasts a modern American menu whose focus is equally as local as the libations: Try the Hudson Valley Seasonal Cookpot of vegetables, featuring a selection of root vegetables, chestnuts, roasted apple and mushrooms, or the Pork Belly Roulade with house-made sauerkraut, carrots, potatoes, apples, and juniper pork jus.
Tuthilltown’s handmade, batch-distilled spirits
Guided by this respect for sense of place and pioneering precedent established by Tuthilltown, Gable Erenzo (Erenzo’s son and Tuthilltown’s former chief distiller) has recently set out to push New York’s craft industry even further. Lately he’s been pursuing two passion projects: distilling unique spirits on a very small scale using hyper-local products, and opening one of New York’s first farm bars, tasting rooms and retail shops under one roof.
“I’ve always had a passion for fruit spirits and brandies and wanted to focus on distilling locally sourced fruit,” says Gable. “I thought I could do it really well and on a small scale selling out of retail storefront and bar.” At his nano-distillery, located at Kettleborough Cider House at Dressel’s Orchards, he’s distilling spirits like a strawberry and an apple eau de vie.
In November 2015, Gable opened Gardiner Liquid Mercantile on Main Street in Gardiner as the nano-distiller’s satellite location. “By offering a one-stop shop for all local craft beverage products, as well as extremely limited house-made spirits only available for retail and consumption at this one location, we create a unique draw for both locals and visitors,” Gable explains.
There, Gable’s business partner and bartender, Zoli Rozen, mixes creative cocktails using local spirits in the inviting Farm Bar, where guests can enjoy conversation while playing board games or relaxing in the small lounge space. The cocktail menu is rounded out with other New York wines, beers, and ciders, and if you’re feeling hungry, the kitchen is serving up a locally sourced menu created by Chef Patti Lowden. “Everything is hyper-local, ethically handmade, and delicious. We know because we personally tasted each and every product on the shelf and know the producers of each item,” says Gable.
Only time will tell what’s next for this area family, but one thing’s for certain: it’s guaranteed to be spirited.