Photo by Megan Spiro Photography
Our craft distilleries look to the history and the bounty of the Hudson Valley to produce seriously delicious, strong drinks.
Located in the bones of a 1900s Nabisco factory, Albany Distilling doesn’t shy away from paying tribute to its predecessors. In addition to two-year-aged bourbon and rye whiskey, the deal here is unaged Quackenbush Still House Rum. Based on an 18th-century recipe, it’s an ode to the city’s original distillery, Quackenbush Still House, which operated from 1758 through the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Keeping with modern times, Albany Distilling has introduced The Cocktail Club canned beverages, a line of naturally flavored vodka sodas. They’ve also collaborated with local businesses on Death Wish Coffee-infused vodka, and with Nine Pin cider on Tenth Pin, a barrel-aged apple brandy. Private tours are given on Saturdays at 3 p.m. and can be reserved online.
Local is the name of the game at Arrowood Farms. Its gin mash features locally grown rye and wheat, and its one-year barrel-aged bourbon is made with 100% New York ingredients, including rye, barley, and Wapsie Valley Heirloom Corn, grown right in Accord. Visit you should! The distillery’s picturesque, mountainous, woodsy farmland is also home to livestock, gardens, an apiary, a hop yard, and a full-service restaurant. Bring your bubble and/or dog, walk around the stunning grounds, or huddle around the fire pits. If you’re not indulging in bourbon, gin, or vodka, the on-site brewery produces funky farmhouse ales using Arrowood’s home-grown hops, with 15 selections on draft.
At this “Grain-to-Glass” farm distillery, spirits are made only with heirloom grains grown on Coppersea’s 75-acre organic farm or sourced within a 25-miles radius. The heritage distilling process (no industrial enzymes here), using direct-fire copper stills, results in straight whiskeys and bourbons of the nutty, roasty, malted variety. Want to brush up on your craft distilling terminology? Dive into the website’s educational videos for a crash course on what open top fermentation, low proof barreling, and floor malting (which they introduced to the area) actually do for the finished products. After that, continue your education by stopping by for tastings, flights, and cocktails that include boozy slushies.
The moniker should be an inkling that Cooper’s Daughter Spirits is woman-owned. But two centuries before current owner Sophie Newsome and parents, Louie and Stuart, bought the property in 2015, Olde York Farm belonged to Jacob Rutsen van Rensselaer — a lawyer, Federalist, Speaker of the New York State Assembly, and distiller. Today, the liquor operation takes place in Rensselaer’s carriage house. Seasonal, small-batch infusions include different amari, bourbons, vodkas, and liqueurs using the bounty of the Hudson Valley. Think mulled peach whiskey in the colder months, rhubarb-honey vodka in the summer, and peony liqueur in the spring. Visitors can reserve a tour, which includes a look at the cooperage (that’s where they make the barrels), or stop by Friday–Sunday for craft cocktails, local brews, vino, and bites from an area food truck in the Cocktail Garden.
When Captain Lawrence Brewing Company debuted its shiny new beer hall in an adjacent building in 2019, CLBC announced plans to open a distillery right next door. It was a natural progression for owner Scott Vaccaro — “Whiskey is distilled beer,” he says — who hired local distiller Kyran Tompkins and gave him a license to experiment. Current’s not-just-whiskey lineup includes vodka, a very aromatic gin, and canned cocktails. (They’re also messing around with herbaceous, after-dinner amari.) You can spend a day here with tours, tastings, and craft cocktails, then hop next door for pints, wood-fired pizza, and sandwiches.
Located in a former auto garage on North Chestnut Street, just around the corner from Beacon’s bustling Main Street shops and eateries, Denning’s Point Distillery offers a bargain tasting of its award-winning spirits for just $5. Each spirit you sip here is of the Hudson Valley, using locally grown grains and fruits from family-run farms within 50 miles of the distillery. After tasting small-batch and cask-strength Beacon Bourbons, Great 9 Gin, vodka, apple brandy, and Maid of the Meadow, a stone wheat distilled vodka with herbs and honey, post up near a whiskey barrel “table” for one (or several) of Denning’s Point’s cocktails, some of which are available for takeaway in single serving bottles.
Dutch’s Spirits’ Pine Plains property used to be a turkey farm — actually a front for a Prohibition-era bootlegging operation run by NYC mobster Dutch Schultz. Today, the distillery doesn’t hide the outlaw past of its grounds; it embraces it by making white lightning. Its Sugar Wash Moonshine is an unaged, cane-sugar whiskey that’s run the old-fashioned way, in copper stills. Currently closed for tasting room renovations, Dutch’s will reopen this spring with a full-service kitchen and bar, and tours of the underground bootlegging tunnels. Until then, you can treasure hunt. Rumor has it that Schultz buried a box filled with $1,000 bills, gold, and diamonds somewhere in Phoenicia, on Route 28 between the roadway and the Esopus Creek or along the railroad tracks. Good luck!
Husband-and-wife team Jeffrey Baker and Cathy Franklin, along with former Maker’s Mark master distiller Dave Pickerell (who sadly passed away in 2018), created what’s easily New York’s most acclaimed distillery. Hillrock’s farm-to-bottle approach involves growing its own heirloom grains and sprouting them in a custom malt house (right) — the first in New York built after Prohibition. The result is a line of fine whiskeys that have won more national awards than we can list. The most famous of the bunch is Hillrock’s Solera Aged Bourbon, involving a pyramid setup of barrels that blends older aged bourbon on the bottom with younger bourbon from the top. It’s finished in 20-year-old oloroso sherry casks to add spicy, nutty, fruity notes. Learn all about the process during a worthwhile one-hour tour and guided tasting (book ahead online).
John Glebocki owned a farm and Bryan Ensall owned a lawn care business before the two friends put their heads together to open Orange County Distillery. Today, the pair still put their green thumbs to good use, growing and farming their own ingredients, which they also mash, ferment, and distill themselves. The result is a variety of whiskeys, including a series of ryes, single malts, bourbon, corn whiskey, some barrel-aged, others unaged, and some flavored with maple or honey, that appeal to a range of palates. Weekends at OCD’s rustic Brown Barn Farms in New Hampton involve live music and food trucks, plus a full menu of classic cocktails, New York-brewed beer, mead, and wine. An OCD brewery should open sometime in 2021.
Whiskey is the spirit in focus at husband-and-wife team Paul and Carol Ann Coughlin’s Taconic Distillery. Stop by the tasting room on Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m. for a sampling of bourbon or rye, including a few barrel-strength choices, and of Taconic’s maple bourbon that picks up sweet notes from Catskill Mountain Sugarhouse’s syrup barrels. While they may not have food (you’re welcome to bring your own) you can sip their multi-award-winning whiskeys and an array of cocktails — curated by Carol Ann — while you play lawn games or kick back in an Adirondack chair near a toasty fire pit.
New labels and an updated website aren’t the only things Tuthilltown’s Hudson Whiskey unveiled as part of its revamped repertoire in 2020. Fans of its Baby Bourbon may have noticed that’s been renamed Bright Lights, Big Bourbon, and it’s now more mature, aged for a minimum of three years instead of two. And that’s not all. Two different tours with guided tastings (there’s also a self-guided option) and Char 1788, a sit-down restaurant, should reopen soon. For now, guests can sample bourbon, whiskey, vodka, gin, and dessert-like coffee or chocolate liqueurs, or snag a seasonal cocktail from the distillery’s mixology program. Expect food from the occasional local food truck or a pop-up from Char 1788 with salivating options like asado chicken and a smoked beef rib.
Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery can make a few claims that others on this list cannot. It was one of the first craft distilleries in the state since Prohibition, and it’s the home of Doc’s Cider, New York’s oldest cidery. (If the name didn’t give it away, they make wine, too.) There is a lot happening here, including different tastings for every type of libation they offer. While you’ll find bourbon and gin, it’s the sweet cordials, fruity liqueurs, aged applejack brandy, port, and grappa that set this distillery apart. An on-site café serves pizza, salad, and a handful of sandwiches, while the outdoor grill has a few more options, like a half-pound burger, locally made kielbasa on a roll, and fries. If that wasn’t enough, the distillery even allows apple picking from early September through Halloween.
– Buy This Bottle –
From apple-distilled spirits and fruity liqueurs to aged whiskeys and herbaceous gin, add some Hudson Valley spirits to your home bar.
By Samantha Garbarini
Photos courtesy of distilleries
Black Dirt Bourbon, $40
Distilled from 80% Black Dirt-grown corn and aged for a minimum of three years in charred American oak, this award-winning bourbon boasts notes of caramel, toffee, and baking spice.
Pine Island; www.blackdirtdistillery.com
Capital Distillery NY Honey Brandy, $40
At this Albany distillery, local cider from Nine Pin is distilled into this golden-hued brandy — try it in a cup of tea — that’s infused with natural honey from a local beekeeper.
Catskill Provisions NY Honey Whiskey, $44
Head distiller and beekeeper Claire Marin ages this rye-forward mash in American oak barrels for more than two years, then finishes it in honeyed barrels, resulting in a whiskey so good it received a double gold medal at the San Francisco World Competition in March 2020.
Harvest Spirits Core Vodka, $37
Harvest Spirits grows its own apples for this delicate, award-winning vodka — the brand’s best-selling product — that’s triple distilled in 100-gallon copper kettles for a super smooth finish.
Heimat Rhubarb Liqueur, $28
Owner Ute Londrigan takes inspiration from her native Germany for this seasonal rhubarb liqueur (and gold-medal winner of the 2020 USA Spirits Ratings competition) that’s great in refreshing cocktails and spritzes.
Hudson Valley Distillers Applejack, $49
Apple cider from neighboring Migliorelli Farm is fermented, distilled, and aged in New York white oak barrels to create this easy-drinking, Hudson Valley version of one of the country’s oldest spirits.
Neversink Spirits Apple Brandy, $58
Only a limited number of bottles of Neversink’s popular apple brandy were produced in 2020 (thanks COVID). But fans of the apple-based spirit need not fear. The distillery also produces apple gin, made with all NYS fruit.
Port Chester; www.neversinkspirits.com
Sound Shore American Single Malt Whiskey, $64
Good Shepherd Distillery recently rebranded to Sound Shore Distillery (a new tasting room is expected to open in 2021), but thankfully it’s still producing its stellar, easy-drinking, small-barrel single malt, made from barley grown in NYS.
Spirits Lab East End Gin, $30
Named for Spirits Lab’s location in Newburgh’s historic East End, this affordable London-style dry gin is made from 16 botanicals — juniper, fresh citrus, elderberry, rose hips, and more — sourced from the Hudson Valley and Europe.
Stoutridge Fernet, $55
An old-school take on the trendy after-dinner drink, Stoutridge’s sweet-bitter amaro clocks in a whopping 90+ proof to be served chilled or mixed into cocktails.
The Vale Fox Tod & Vixen’s Dry Gin 1651, $40
A team of cocktail pros and a British master distiller collaborated on this copper-distilled gin designed to enhance the flavors of gin cocktails, with the help of eight botanicals, including juniper, coriander, and red Rooibos tea.