Photos courtesy of Eliza Dyson and Joel LeVangia
Find Scotch-style whiskey, citrusy gin, and smooth vodka at Tenmile Distillery, a bucolic craft beverage destination in Wassaic.
It’s a great time to be a whiskey fan in the Hudson Valley. Destination distilleries are all the rage, and the region’s breathtaking beauty is the appropriate backdrop for small-batch sips.
What better setting than Wassaic, an artsy hamlet of Amenia, for a new producer of terroir-driven liquors? Tenmile Distillery carves out a reputation for Scottish-style whiskey and grain-to-glass vodka and gin in the region.
“Personally, I never thought much of whiskey. I had a glass of Yamazaki 25, which is a Japanese single-malt whiskey. It was pretty great, and so I thought I would go and buy a bottle—until I discovered that it was $1,500 a bottle. And at that point I said, you know what? There’s probably a better and a cheaper way to get something just as good,” recalls Joel LeVangia, who co-runs the distillery with Eliza Dyson.
The trouble was, he couldn’t find anything as good—for a reasonable price. LeVangia, determined, decided to pursue distilling on a small-scale. Ambition motivated him, but he needed someone who knew the local craft beverage scene inside and out.
Enter John Dyson. The prominent Hudson Valley political leader and proprietor of Millbrook Winery has long sought to open a distillery. His mother’s maiden name was McGregor, and her side of the family imbued a deep pride in his Scottish heritage. Dyson’s grandfather taught him how to farm, inspiring him to study agricultural economics at Cornell University.
“He considers himself a Scot, and has always thought highly of Scotch whiskey. For many years, he was prevented from having a distillery because he already had a winery,” LeVangia explains. Prohibition-era laws prevented owning a winery and a brewery or distillery at the same time. LeVangia theorizes that this was to prevent scammers from shifting inventory between businesses and hiding tax revenue. However, this law changed in 2008 with the Farm Distillery Act.
When LeVangia mentioned the prospect of small-batch distilling in a garage, John Dyson stepped in.
“John said to me ‘No, no, no, you’ll blow it. You should do my distillery if you’re serious about it. I’ll keep you from making any mistakes, and then you can go off and do your own when you’re ready.’ So, we’ve done John’s distillery. He’s pretty happy about how it turned out, and so are we,” LeVangia says with a chuckle.
First, they needed a location. John Dyson suggested they find an old dairy barn near a major road—as long as it wasn’t caving in. Luckily, the perfect candidate sat just a short drive from Four Brothers Drive-In, Troutbeck, and other northern Dutchess destinations.
“Well, New York 22 is a major road. What if we had a train station on the other side that ran to Grand Central Station?” LeVangia recalls suggesting to Dyson. Turns out, exactly such a property existed.
Hudson-based architect Allan Shope had converted a 20,000 sq ft barn into a one-bedroom house. It was a gorgeous piece of sustainable architecture—but there was a problem. This property stood adjacent to a train station, and horns blew at the crack of dawn. Potential homeowners weren’t interested, but the team behind Tenmile Distillery certainly was.
LeVangia closed on the space in March 2017. He turned the stills on in December 2019, and the distillery has been quietly making spirits ever since.
“The whiskey is awfully good, but we’re going to wait until it’s three years old to be official the same way the Scots do,” he explains. Under the Farm Distillery license, makers must use 75-percent New York State-grown ingredients. Then, they can sell directly to retail.
View this post on Instagram
Tenmile Distilling works with many Hudson Valley businesses to source the highest-quality base ingredients. Hudson Valley Malt in Germantown handles the malting, while nearby Kukon Brothers cultivate the wheat used in Tenmile spirits. Ken Migliorelii of Tivoli and a grower near Lake Ontario provide barley. In fact, LeVangia and co. are the largest consumer of New York State-grown barley in the state. They purchased 500,000 lbs in 2020 alone.
Of course, these farm-raised ingredients fuel single-malt whiskey primarily.
View this post on Instagram
“Japanese distillers have had so much success because they’ve stayed more faithful to traditional whiskey-making methods. In fact, they make single malt the way the Scots did in the ’60s and ’70s,” LeVangia explains. “And, I would say that we’re very close to doing the same thing at Tenmile Distillery. We make everything a lot slower. We’re definitely not in any hurry, and we’re getting every iota out of that traditional process.”
Expect the first release in March 2023. Currently, Tenmile is pre-selling spots on a customer list for Scotch fans. However, there’s plenty to sample at Tenmile Distillery today, particularly the Sinpatch Vodka and Listening Rock Gin.
According to LeVangia, the vodka has a nice roundness to it and a soft, smooth profile. A small-scale approach treats the base material more gently than an industrial facility with 100 ft-tall column stills (that strip everything but the ethanol out of vodka). Tenmile’s column still only has 14 plates. A condenser sits on top. This allows the distillery to get to vodka-strength spirits without putting it through an extra 30 distillations.
On the other hand, the Listening Rock Gin is punchier than drinkers may be used to sipping. It’s essentially a London dry gin, with way more citrus. Part of that punch comes from mint and lemon balm harvested from the garden. The distillery uses Croatian and Italian juniper, but plans to incorporate estate-grown juniper down the road.
View this post on Instagram
Curious about the process? Book a tour online, and there’s a chance you’ll join master distiller Shane Fraser or distiller Cole Peck. Sip Tenmile Distillery’s specialty cocktails, including its takes on Bloody Marys and Vespers. Plus, diners can reserve beautiful spaces for catered lunches and dinners.