Seventy-four years after FDR signed the Cullen-Harrison Act— a precursor to the 21st Amendment—an act was introduced that’s been no less revolutionary for New York State spirits-makers. The 2007 Farm Distillery Act made it infinitely easier for microdistilleries to become viable businesses, even despite strict requirements, like using at least 70 percent New York raw agricultural material. In fact, this caveat has helped to define the hyperlocal spirits being produced in the Hudson Valley. Famous lush H. L. Mencken once proclaimed the martini as “the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet”—a form where creativity thrives within a set structure. And within the bounds of state law, the stuff being mashed and aged, stirred and strained in the Hudson Valley is pure poetry. Here are seven of the best local distilleries and seven of the establishments utilizing their spirits to create liquid lyricism.
DELAWARE PHOENIX DISTILLERY
You’ve heard the myth: Absinthe is dangerous. It made van Gogh cut his ear off. Though rebounding as a popular spirit, the anise-based liquor carries some baggage. “They don’t understand the history of the spirit, how it was consumed by millions of ordinary people in France from the 1860s through World War I,” says Cheryl Lins, owner and distiller at Delaware Phoenix Distillery in Walton. After absinthe was relegalized in the U.S. in 2007, Lins revived the oft-misunderstood spirit by using 18th-century European distilling methods. Her absinthes brighten many a pre-Prohibition-era cocktail at Stockade Tavern in Kingston, including the Absinthe Suissesse, a traditional New Orleans brunch tipple with orgeat (an almond syrup), fresh egg white, and whole cream. Stockade co-owner Paul Maloney instructs, “Empty contents, ice and all, into a double-rocks glass, put on some Kid Ory, sit on your porch with your Suissesse, and think of New Orleans.”
Delaware Phoenix Distillery 144 Delaware Street, Walton / (607) 865-5056
Stockade Tavern 313 Fair Street, Kingston / (845) 514-2649
STILL THE ONE DISTILLERY
“The quality of what comes out of the still is determined by the quality of what goes into the still.” This is the maxim of Still the One Distillery’s Ed Tiedge, a former Marine officer and Wall Street bond trader. Tiedge got his start in spirits with his Comb Vodka, which is made by distilling mead, a traditional honey wine. Tiedge’s ingredients R&D continued with Still the One’s 287 Single Malt Whiskey, which is made with beer from the nearby Captain Lawrence Brewery. Though the idea sounds unconventional, it follows a sound logic. “Whiskey starts by making beer,” says Tiedge. At Hive Living Room in the Westchester Renaissance Hotel, bartender Ted Aiello uses Still the One’s 287 Single Malt Whiskey, along with its Westchester Rye Whiskey, to create The Westchester Cocktail—surely not your average Manhattan.
Still the One Distillery 1 Martin Place, Port Chester / (914) 217-0347
Hive Living Room + Bar 80 West Red Oak Lane, West Harrison / (914) 694-5400
ORANGE COUNTY DISTILLERY
What do you get when you introduce new farm-distillery legislation to a fifth-generation vegetable grower? Sugar beet vodka. Run by partners John Glebocki and Bryan Ensall, the field-to-bottle distillery, founded a year ago, grows, harvests, malts, mashes, and distills all of the products used to make its spirits on premises. “The earth where it grows does transition,” says Glebocki of the sugar beet vodka. “Its earthiness and sweetness is not added later.” In addition to their corn whiskey, bourbon, and gin cocktails, their signature sugar beet vodka cocktail is served at their barn amidst Goshen’s black dirt fields. The Courkat features vodka, muddled jalapeño, a splash of lime, and ice, shaken until frothy and topped with sparkling lemonade. Like a summer salad in a glass—that’ll get you buzzed.
Orange County Distillery 19 Maloney Lane, Goshen / (845) 651-2929
The cute, stout bottles of Tuthilltown’s Hudson Whiskey line make them ideal for a bar’s front-row display, but at $45 for a 375 ml bottle, the international brand was being left off of many local cocktail menus. “Now that we’ve been around for 10 years, we’ve managed to get the cost down, and we’re passing it along,” says Ralph Erenzo, co-founder of Tuthilltown Spirits. Erenzo’s referring to the release of a new 750 ml bottle for $50—only $5 more for double the volume. Next door, at the Tuthill House, head barman Darren Joseph has created a fleet of elegant cocktails featuring Tuthilltown’s increasingly varied product line, like The Ginger Snap, which features Half Moon Orchard Gin, egg white, fig and ginger jam, rosemary simple syrup, and fresh lemon.
Tuthilltown Spirits and House 14 Grist Mill Lane, Gardiner / (845) 255-1527
BLACK DIRT DISTILLERY
Black Dirt Distillery, an offshoot of the established Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery in the heart of Orange County’s black-dirt region, has introduced a boozier descendant of its classic Doc’s Apple Cider. Made from 100 percent Jona Gold apples and aged in a mix of charred oak and Black Dirt Bourbon barrels, Black Dirt Apple Jack has developed a niche demand among the Hudson Valley’s cocktail community. “We have the only bottled-in-bond apple jack that’s been released in New York,” says co-owner Jeremy Kidde. “It has to be aged at least four years, bottled at exactly 100 proof, and distilled in the same year by the same distiller.” James Brown, restaurant and beverage manager of The Garrison, takes Black Dirt’s high standard of quality to the next level with his house cocktails, which include the Black Dirt Bourbon with Warwick Valley Sour Cherry Cordial, Carpano Antica, and Chocolate Bitter Truth, served up.
Black Dirt Distillery 114 Little York Road, Warwick / (845) 258-6020
The Garrison 2015 Route 9, Garrison / (845) 424-3248
HILLROCK ESTATE DISTILLERY
Hillrock Estate is a sustainable enterprise in the truest sense of the word. “We’re growing everything in our fields, harvesting the grain, malting it at our malt house, and doing all of the distilling here,” says owner Jeff Baker. The field-to-glass operation recognizes that terroir isn’t limited to the world of wine. “There’s a real profile of clove and cinnamon that comes across in our whiskeys,” says Baker. “It seems to be something that’s stamped into our fields.” Hillrock’s solera-aged bourbon (made by a historic European method of fractional blending and aging) is a favorite among the Hudson Valley’s cocktail elite. “We are lucky to have Hillrock so close to us producing whiskey of incredible quality,” says Jim Buhs, bar manager at 52Main in Millerton. For his next cocktail menu, Buhs will include the favorite Sazarec recipe of Hillrock’s master distiller, Dave Pickerell, featuring Hillrock Rye and Creole bitters.
Hillrock Estate Distillery 408 Pooles Hill Road, Ancram / (518) 329-1023
52Main 52 Main Street, Millerton / (518) 789-0252
DENNING’S POINT DISTILLERY
Karl Johnson of the new Beacon-based distillery got his start distilling components for rocket fuel. “Different end result, but the process is somewhat similar,” says his wife, Susan, chief brand bum. Karl grew up on a 6,000-acre farm, where he studied barley breeding under his father, so it’s no wonder that New York State-grown grains and herbs are the main event in his spirits—from the White Rye Whiskey, an interpretation of traditional moonshine, to the new Maid of the Meadow Vodka, which incorporates wild Hudson Valley herbs and honey. “The bottles they put out are gorgeous,” says Aleah Carlson, bartender at The Roundhouse in Beacon, where she serves up one of her newest concoctions: The Gin and Juice pairs Denning’s Grain 9 Gin with fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, sweet vermouth, simple syrup, and three Luxardo cherries.
Denning’s Point Distillery 10 N. Chestnut Street, Beacon / (845) 230-7905
The Roundhouse 2 E. Main Street, Beacon / (845) 765-8369