Pine Plains’ past is on display at almost every turn. “When you look at the street signs, and the last names are the people you see in the diner, that’s really something very special,” says Ariel Schlein. He’s only lived in the area for a few years but he’s got the local knowledge of an old-timer. That’s because he literally walks over the Dutchess County town’s history every day.
Schlein is co-owner of the distillery Dutch’s Spirits, which is named for Dutch Schultz, an infamous mobster who ran hooch down to New York City in the 1930s. Schultz transformed the 400-acre Harvest Homestead Farm into a labyrinthine system of underground tunnels and bunkers from which rotating groups of laborers ran a bootlegging production. The distillery was housed inside an old cow barn until it was raided by federal agents in 1932, after which the property was turned back into an actual farm.
In 2008, Schlein and his friend Alex Adams began kicking around the idea of transforming Adams’s old family farm in Pine Plains back into a distillery—this time with the full backing of the law. “Of course,” Schlein says, “it was 2008, and it wasn’t a good time to be throwing around big ideas like that, so we put it on the back burner for a while. But once it stuck in my craw, I couldn’t really get it out.” Schlein has since applied liberal amounts of elbow grease to the once-dilapidated farm to create Dutch’s Spirits. “It’s a labor of love,” he says of his “reclamation project.”
Schlein, who grew up in Westchester County, met Adams at the University of Chicago. Schlein went on to earn an MBA at Baruch College, then remained in New York City to work in finance for his father for the next decade. He makes no bones about his lack of background in distilling. “I kept doing due diligence, my own research, talking to experts, attending conferences, and just really studying the landscape,” he says, getting to know both the distilling business and the property. “It was an American ruin. There was debris. There was a bunkhouse dormitory, and it had been changed so many times over the years,” he says. “People lived in it over the decades after the raid. It really took a lot of vision to see what it could become.”
In 2011, the farm was listed in the New York State and National Register of Historic Places, and the distillery was licensed to make liquor and sell it, thanks to New York State’s 2013 Farm Distillery Law. That year, Schlein quit his job in finance and relocated to Pine Plains to run Dutch’s Spirits with his wife and son in tow.
Schlein arrived in Pine Plains on the heels of the community’s transformation, and Dutch’s Spirits fit right in. Once known for its sprawling horse farms, Pine Plains was seeing new business ventures crop up in town, many of which utilized and updated existing storefronts, including restaurants like the Pine Plains Platter and Stissing House, built in the 1700s, and the Emporium, a general store originally built in 1879. Outside of town, Hammertown Barn sells home furnishings from a renovated horse barn, and the Hudson Company provides reclaimed wood to residences and commercial spaces throughout New York City, including the new Whitney Museum.
Although Schlein recently moved from the farm to nearby Stanfordville, he still spends most of his time at Dutch’s, turning out batches of moonshine, bitters, peach brandy, and DIY bitters-and-tonic kits. Dutch’s tasting room, housed in a Dutch gambrel barn, is open all week, and group tours offer glimpses of the old distillery.
Immersed in Dutch’s daily operations and the farm’s history, Schlein has embraced Pine Plains with open arms, and the town has embraced him back. “Pine Plains is this rediscovered jewel,” he says. “They’re very supportive of new businesses, as long as those new businesses are respectful of where [the community] came from.”
In fact, Schlein has used the town’s mindfully paced development as a guiding principle in developing the farm property. “I’m not doing anything other than carrying on with the efforts that were shut down in 1932,” he says. “I like to think that what I built there is what would’ve been built had Prohibition been repealed before it was found out.”