Stephen Osborn’s wines got in the way of his whiskeys. In 2001, Osborn and his wife, Kimberly Wagner, bought a property in Marlboro that had been a vineyard since the late 1790s and a wine-making operation since Teddy Roosevelt was president. It has also been the site of a bootleg-era still that continued to operate — beyond the gaze of the “revenooers” — until the mid-1950s.
Osborn and Wagner replanted the grape vines and, in 2006, opened Stoutridge Winery and Distillery. “We built a distillery mostly to make brandies,” Osborn says. “We had some ideas to make better brandies, and then use part of the cuts of brandy-making to make vodka. We thought that would be cool.” But the winery took off faster than anticipated, and the distilling was “mothballed.”
About three years ago, though, he was ready to take it out of mothballs. “We said, you know, we have a distillery — we should use that thing,” he says. Stoutridge takes pride in its natural wines, and Osborn concluded that, “The thing that would best exemplify naturalness [in distilling] would be single malt whiskeys.” Stoutridge claims it is one of just ten distilleries in the country to do its own malting, and the only U.S. distillery with a Scottish-style kilning floor. “It’s the idea of natural wine taken to whiskey,” he says.
This past April, it released its first batch, Southern Ulster Single Malt. The two-year-old whiskey is aged in Scotch barrels previously used by the Laphroaig distillery in Scotland. Before Laphroaig got them, the then-new barrels were used to make bourbon. “We get that smoky character from lighter peat in the barrel, similar to Scotch, but it’s more transparent. You can still see through into the character of the malt,” he says. “We are also repatriating the bourbon barrel, which we like.” That complements their sustainable, environmentally friendly mindset: “We get five more years out of a tree.”
Stoutridge will continue to age its single malt and market older versions, but Osborn says that the way he cuts and ages his whiskey, “they taste older than they are. They have a nice, rich, sweet maltiness. A lot of Scotches have lost that maltiness.”
The single malt is just the latest of their spirits to hit the market. They also produce, along with blended and rye whiskies, one or more versions of vodka, brandy, gin, amaro, and vermouth. And Osborn is soon to come out with two anise-flavored spirits, pastis and absinthe. “We recently hired a distiller known for absinthe,” he says. “We are making a very serious effort at creating some very high-quality products.”
Osborn, who studied food science at Cornell, says he has been making wine since he was a teenager. His entire career has been wine-centric, and he built his distillery as an adjunct to the winery. “Then our wines did well, and we are really happy it worked that way,” he says. But he is equally happy to embrace his spirits. “We are really excited about the release of our first single malt,” he says. “This is the whiskey that Stoutridge endorses as having the ideals we have in our wine.”