For Paul and Carol Ann Coughlin, being in the right place at the right time has allowed them to turn a weekend hobby into a blossoming business. That business is distilling spirits, and the couple has transitioned from selling small amounts of bourbon out of their weekend hunting cabin in Stanfordville into Taconic Distillery, which now boasts the second-largest still in New York.
“Our timing was very good,” Paul says. “It gave me a good reason to shut down my investment business and move here from Connecticut. Now, this is my seven-days-a-week job.”
The Coughlins bought their 113-acre property, which they now call Rolling Hills Farm, in 2010 as a getaway hunting retreat. “We had so much land, we wondered what we could do with it,” he says. They considered raising cattle or sheep, but settled on growing corn and winter rye and turning it into bourbon and rye whiskey, using the natural spring water on the farm.
They partnered with Gerald Valenti, an engineer with an abiding interest in the science of food and beverage. Their first bourbons were offered in 2013. “We had 400 square feet [of production space], no retail, no tasting room,” Paul says. But with the burgeoning market for small-batch craft spirits taking off, their sales soared. They decided to expand, and their new distillery, which opened in August 2016, boasts a patio and picnic area, a firepit, vastly more production space, and a retail and tasting room.
What sets their whiskeys apart, he says, is their filtering process. During distillation, fatty molecules are produced, which can leave the whiskey with a cloudy appearance. Chill filtering uses colder temperatures to cause these molecules to coalesce, so they can be removed. But these oils also add flavor. Coughlin and his team prefer to keep the flavor and sacrifice some of the clarity. Some of their bottles may look cloudy as a result, but the trade-off is worth it, he says.
Their main products are 90- and 115-proof bourbon and rye, and they also make rum. They run a second business as well, recycling their used barrels to produce bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup, in partnership with Catskill Mountain Sugar House in Grahamsville. Carol Ann Coughlin, whose title at Taconic Distillery is chief mixologist, develops cocktail recipes that include the syrup — the maple whiskey sour is a sweet new spin on the old classic.
A true family affair, the Coughlins’ three daughters, Grace, Kathryn, and Christina, pitch in with bottling, bartending, and event hosting when not in school. Even the family dog Cooper plays a role in the company logo. A foxhound, Cooper guards the family business in the same way that old-time bootleggers used that particular breed to give a throaty howl whenever government agents came poking around. Fortunately for whiskey lovers, there’s no need to hide the moonshine any more.
179 Bowen Rd, Stanfordville, 845.393.4583