A Visit to Tuthilltown Spirits – Where Baby Bourbon is Born
I had the extreme pleasure this past July 4th weekend to journey 90 miles north of New York City to visit Tuthilltown Spirits – the home of one of my all-time favorite whiskeys, Hudson Baby Bourbon.
Physically located in the heart of the Hudson Valley, near New Paltz, NY, Tuthilltown Spirits is the spiritual center of a revival that has been a long-time coming. Humility takes over when distillery partner Ralph Erenzo talks about his craft. He says, “There’s nothing magic here – It’s just whiskey. Really good whiskey.” But one need only set foot on the grounds of Tuthilltown Spirits to know differently, and none other than the New York Times agrees.
Tuthilltown Spirits is the first producer of whiskey (or any grain whiskey for that matter) in New York State since prohibition. And this is no mass-produced-industrial-conglomerate operation. Every batch of bourbon, rye, corn whiskey, rum and vodka is hand-crafted, hand-bottled, hand-labeled, and hand-numbered (seriously – there’s just a guy with a red marker writing the batch and bottle number of each bottle as the wax seal dries.)
Gable Erenzo, a distilleryman himself (as well as brand ambassador, and Ralph’s son), took us on a tour of the operation. Tuthilltown uses two German copper-pot stills that they’ve installed in the old granary on the property. The rye, wheat, corn, barley, apples and other ingredients all come from either their own property, or local New York State farms. (The only exception is the blackstrap molasses they bring up from Louisiana to make the Hudson River Rum.) Every batch is then aged in small American Oak barrels before it’s bottled, sealed and shipped to those of us lucky enough to enjoy it.
After the tour, the crew was kind enough to allow those of us who were interested to help kick off the rye harvest for the season. Trust me – if you’ve never had the experience of using a sickle to hand-cut the rye that will go into your favorite whiskey, you’ve really missed out on something special. The cynics among us might think the staff was just looking for some free labor, but trust me, we weren’t really making much of a dent in their crop (there was still plenty left to cut by the time we were done.) As Ralph described it to us, their intent was really just to help us understand their process, and what really goes into making a quality spirit. Mission accomplished there – I had a great time (and got some good exercise to boot!)
Last but not least, what trip to a local artisan distillery would be complete without a tasting? After coming in from the fields, we had a chance to taste examples of what would become of the fruits of our labors. Here I had my first taste of raw corn whiskey – what some might call Moonshine. This is 100% corn whiskey right off the still – no sugar added, no aging required. It’s clear, with a soft aroma, but don’t let that fool you – it’ll put hair on your chest.
I also tried the Hudson Four Grain Bourbon Whiskey – made from rye, wheat, corn and malted barley. It’s a very robust bourbon, rounded out by the blend of flavors from the four different key ingredients. And I finished our tasting with what I knew to be my favorite – the Hudson Baby Bourbon, made from 100% corn. It’s relatively mild, and a little sweet, but very flavorful. You’ll often find it in my glass at the end of a long day.
Finally, I know I’ve been gushing a bit, so I feel the need to make something clear. One of the benefits of writing about spirits and cocktails is that you get invited to a lot of events, and companies send you lots of free samples of their product. That may tend to influence some people, but I always aim to be objective and neutral. Nothing I’ve told you about today has been tainted in anyway by the folks at Tuthilltown – I haven’t received a single dollar or a single bottle for free. My friend Terry and I took our own car up to Tuthilltown – nobody paid for our trip – and as we were wrapping up our day, I purchased three bottles of whiskey from Tuthilltown out of my own pocket. No samples. No discounts. I paid for it myself – it’s that good.
I’ll leave it at that. You can find the rest of the pictures from our trip on our Flickr pool. Many thanks to Ralph, Gable, Peter, and all the folks at Tuthilltown Spirits for a wonderfully enjoyable visit!