Distilling has exploded in the Hudson Valley. Grain-to-glass producers turn the region’s rich bounty into award-winning whiskeys, gins, and more. Spirit aficionados travel far and wide to experience tastings in atmospheric cellars and on bucolic farms.
At Hudson House & Distillery, visitors sip small-batch bourbons and rye whiskeys with a breathtaking backdrop of the river.
“When you look around the entire nation, I kid you not, there is nothing like this at all, anywhere. But, it’s taken us an enormously long time to get here,” co-founder Charles Ferri says. Ferri and his partner, Paul Seres, spent five long years bringing their concept to fruition.
For the first time in 150 years, this stunning West Park property opens its grounds to the public. Its first phase includes a tasting room adorned with original brick wood accents, an expansive four-season deck overlooking the Hudson’s eastern shores, and a beautiful bridal suite. Down the road, this all-in-one destination will unveil a 25-room hotel, indoor and outdoor wedding event spaces, and more.
Ferri and Seres are actually the fourth owners of this gem; three different constructions altered the building completely in the 1850s, 1870s, and 1930s. Hudson House sits on 27 acres of a larger parcel of 400 acres formerly owned by the Congregation of Christian Brothers. A Union colonel, Archibald Russell built the original Italian-style manor house just before the Civil War. Technically speaking, Hudson House owns about 25 ft of the river, since Colonel Russell secured right of dock and riparian rights for the property’s shoreline.
He later parceled off the three estates and sold the house to the Durkee family, famous for their line of spices. It was a wedding gift for their daughter, and they were responsible for the 1870s additions. After them, the Christian Brothers purchased the property in the 1920s and built their monastery in 1933.
“Because of our proximity to SUNY New Paltz, Marist College, and some of the other colleges, we have a great network of educators that know about this property who specialize in certain fields. We’ve had somebody come through who knew about the architecture because he teaches architecture. One of our consultants runs the graduate program of archaeology at SUNY New Paltz, and his forte is 1920s Americana,” Seres says.
This expert revealed that Hudson House served as a major stop along the hobo circus. Because of the freight train bifurcating the property—Hudson House is one of two destinations along the river that has an underpass—riders would leap off the train and follow a trail up the hill. A hand pump to a cistern, which remains intact to this day, provided them fresh water. Residents of the monastery left out extra food, soap, towels, and other supplies. Hobos rested onside, cleaned themselves up, and went back down the trail to jump aboard the next train to pass by.
“We try to unearth as many little tidbits about the property as possible. Part of our job is telling the story of this place. We want people to come here for the experience, and to form new memories through our storytelling,” Seres says.
Every sip at Hudson House tells a piece of that story. Black Creek Whiskey’s label contains a photo of the property in the 1800s, back when the Durkee family owned it. Bottle releases are always small-batch collector’s items, with their own identifying “Easter eggs.” Seres and Ferri strive to reveal the Hudson Valley’s history to visitors far and wide through their labeling. Potential future plans include a cinnamon whiskey referencing the burning of Kingston in 1777, and paying homage to local heroes like Sojourner Truth.
Once a particular blend is sold out, it’s sold out. Each release is a limited run. Early visitors will get a taste of primary offerings Black Creek Bourbon and Black Creek Rye, the latter of which will join the official Empire Rye designation. To produce Empire Rye, a distiller must source 100-percent of its ingredients from New York growers. Another bourbon will utilize local maple syrup for a subtle sweetness, and the team will soon tap trees on the own property for sap. Later this summer, they’ll produce a line of vodkas and gins.
Hudson House also features craft beverages from other local producers under a private label. It showcases Mill House Brewing Co.’s light lager and Kolsch, Millbrook Winery’s award-winning Tocai, and several wines from the Finger Lakes region.
“Highlighting local producers means the world to us. There’s another candle company up in Hudson we’re looking to do something with…. We want everything to be local but yet branded with Hudson House. So you’re coming into our world, coming to this experience, and you’re leaving knowing you experienced something very unique and different and representative of the greater Hudson Valley,” Ferri enthuses.
When enjoying cocktails on the 5,000 sq ft deck and gazing out at Vanderbilt Mansion, it’s difficult to imagine how difficult the road to opening really was. Of course, the owners had a global pandemic to contend with on top of everything else. In fact, their journey began over nine years ago.
“At the time, Charles had stepped away from venue management and was moving towards product development. He created Star Vodka and was building up a name for it in the city,” Seres says. “I kept doing events, running a venue called the DL in the Lower East Side, and Charles was promoting Star Vodka on the rooftop.” The pair sipped vodka together, riffing back and forth about different ideas. Seres is one of the founders of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, a vast network of future allies. They connected right away and shared the same dream of opening a one-of-a-kind all-in-one destination.
Finding a location in the red-hot Hudson Valley with the unique offerings they were seeking proved to be a daunting task. Ferri grew up in Dutchess County and knew the region well due to his parents’ expertise in real estate. He and Seres envisioned something truly special, and they found it on “monastery row.” (Holy Cross Monastery, the Cabrini home, and other historic sites stand just down the road.)
“I was ready to give up on the search after a few prospects fell through. My wife caught a glimpse of this site driving on 9W and encouraged me to check it out. It was overgrown, and there was no ‘for sale’ sign posted. We snuck onto the property, and our first glimpse of the river blew us away,” Ferri recalls. In a pure moment of synchronicity, what is now Hudson House hit the market less than a week prior. Ferri and Seres took a leap of faith and closed on the site during a fire sale in 2015, following the Christian Brothers’ declaration of bankruptcy.
Local government from the Town of Esopus nominated this a priority project for the region. The proposal included a 25-room hotel, a 10,000 sq ft ballroom, restaurants, and more. In phasing construction of the project, the pair secured financing and ensured that they would “walk before they could run.” Development hiccups and construction-related surprises kept Ferri and Seres on their toes as they pushed onward.
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A big loss for the team was Gable Erenzo, who passed away in April 2021. Erenzo started Tuthilltown Spirits/Hudson Whiskey with his father, Ralph, sparking a renaissance of distilling that the Hudson Valley not seen since the days of Prohibition. He also supported other local producers through his operation at Gardiner Liquid Mercantile. Erenzo was set to be the chief distiller of The Hudson House.
“We hit it off with Gable from the get-go. We hired him right on the spot as a consultant [and] he worked with us throughout the development process. This was going to be his baby,” Seres says. “We really want to honor Gable’s memory. He saw this project come to fruition out of mere rubble.”
Ralph Erenzo remains an advisor on their distilling efforts. They gutted the entire basement, ending up with 12 ft-high ceilings, German copper stills and columns, and a small lounge with a picture window peering into the distillery. Ferri notes the basement’s likeness to “an old catacomb, waiting to be explored.” When working on the tasting room upstairs, the team unearthed an original brick fireplace. Tables and other pieces used wood harvested onsite, with other treasures still waiting to be discovered.
Fall 2021 marks an official grand opening for Hudson House New York, but, until then, eager fans can stop by during a series of “whisper openings” in August. During the events, guests can catch live jazz performances and sample first batches on the weekends.
“If people want to stop by, we’ll be open, we’ll be giving tours, they can sit on our deck and have some cocktails. It’s all word of mouth. Guests can find two tasting rooms in the Manor House, with a bridal suite/VIP lounge on the second floor.”
With a glass in hand, all it takes is a few steps from the tasting room to stand face-to-face with an unparalleled unobstructed view of the Hudson.
Hudson House & Distillery
1835 Broadway, West Park