You may think you know gin. And you may assume there’s not much to know about it, aside from being an ingredient in a martini or a Tom Collins. But, according to local liquor pros and a passionate, ever-growing group of HV distillers, you’d be wrong.
Joe Cricchio, the beverage director at Cosimo’s and Hudson Taco in Newburgh and owner of The Wine Store in Marlboro, has seen the excitement surrounding the local gin scene first-hand, and says classic English or European gin that relies heavily on juniper berries for its flavor is being nudged aside. “There’s a New American style of gin that has more citrus and floral or spice notes,” says Cricchio. In other words, more interesting options than ever.
Juniper is what gives gin its distinctive scent and taste; it’s also an essential ingredient for gin to be, well, gin. But beyond using juniper, distillers can layer on any botanicals they choose including flowers (such as hibiscus and chamomile), citrus peels, vegetables (ramps, watercress), herbs, spices—even fungi, tree bark, and roots. “Literally any possible botanical that’s not poisonous is eligible,” says Joel LeVangia, co-founder and co-owner of newcomer Tenmile Distillery in Wassaic.
Hudson Valley distillers are taking full advantage of these farm-to-bottle options. “We try to use as much New York product as possible,” says Tenmile co-founder John Dyson. They use Germantown-grown wheat to distill their gin and flavor it with local lemon balm and mint. “I wanted a taste profile that wasn’t as dependent on juniper,” says Dyson.
Spirits Lab in Newburgh is having fun developing unique flavors, too. “As a whiskey producer, I fell deep down the gin distillery route,” says Matt Frohman, a partner at Spirits Lab. “I absolutely love distilling gin and was surprised by it. Having a food background is helpful when figuring out what works well together.”
What’s working especially well is their East End Gin, named after the distillery’s location in Newburgh’s historic East End. “It has been enormously successful,” says Frohman, who adds that in addition to the mandatory juniper, East End contains 16 different botanicals—including lemon, lime, orange, and pink grapefruit peels along with lemongrass, elderberry, elderflower, hibiscus, rosehips, jasmine, ginger, and cascara (a coffee-making byproduct from Coffee Labs Roasters in Tarrytown). In fact, national gin makers—like Gray Whale Gin from Baja, California—are even turning to oceanic botanicals like seaweed. “Gins can be simple, with two to five ingredients, or very complex,” says Frohman who predicts that Hudson Valley gin makers will continue to “ease off the juniper and add more floral ingredients.”
Tim Sweeney, owner of Stone Ridge Wine & Spirits, stocks at least a dozen New York State gins, including bottles from two of his favorite local distillers, Harvest Spirits in Valatie and Hudson Valley Distillers in Germantown. “Harvest Spirits was among the first to enter the field. They have a gin that is very floral.” In fact, Harvest Spirits is New York
State’s first farm distillery, and their unique gin is distilled from apples instead of grain.
Cricchio is particularly taken with the variety produced by Isolation Proof, a new, small-batch distillery in the tiny Western Catskills town of Bovina Center.
Their spring gin was infused with ramps and watercress, and the summer version contains rhubarb, raspberries, pink peppercorns, coriander, hibiscus, and orange and grapefruit peels. “It’s a beautiful rosé color,” he says. Cricchio is also a fan of Branchwater Farms in Milan. Husband-and-wife team Kevin Pike and Robin Touchet launched Branchwater’s first gin label last year. “They consulted with Hans Reisetbauer, a super-famous farmer and distiller out of Austria,” says Cricchio. “I think it’s really great to have an internationally known distiller doing consulting in the Hudson Valley.”
Speaking of celebrity distillers—there’s another local gin garnering a lot of attention: Blackberry Gin from MF Libations, a new brand from local actors Hilarie Burton Morgan (“One Tree Hill” and “White Collar”) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (“The Walking Dead” and “Supernatural”). Their variation is made with wild blackberries from their 100-acre Mischief Farm in Rhinebeck. The couple worked with Eral Gokgol-Kline, the founder of The Vale Fox—a small-batch estate distillery in Poughkeepsie known for its limited-edition gins—to create the MF Libations line.
If you’re new to gin—or new to the latest botanical gins—Frohman suggests starting with a gin and tonic, replacing the classic lime wedge with a sour orange wedge and basil leaf. And keep experimenting from there. “Play around with local fruits and herbs that you can grab from a farmers market,” suggests Cricchio. “Local cherries muddled with simple syrup, lime juice, gin and sparkling water is an easy way to make a seasonal refreshing cocktail.” We’ll drink to that!
When a winery decides to distill gin, that’s unique. When said winery wins multiple awards on the very first try, that’s extraordinary. But we shouldn’t be too surprised: Milea Estate Vineyard in Staatsburg has been collecting medals for their vinos since they crushed their first grapes in 2015. Now their 10 Point Gin is stealing some of the limelight with a gold medal at the Denver International Spirits Competition in March and two awards at the NYS International Spirits Competition in April—a gold in the gin category and New York State Gin Distillery of the Year. 10 Point’s distinctive flavor comes from the vineyard—it’s distilled with Milea grapes and sustainable botanicals and aged in Chardonnay barrels. Yet another reason to visit this wonderful winery. —Francesca Furey
Related: Try Whiskeys, Vodkas, and Liqueurs at These Hudson Valley Distilleries