Monday, November 05, 2012

Hillrock Estate Distillery Has a Great Future


(Note: I must first apologize to Tim and Jeff and the group. I very much intended to attend the recent grand opening, but was unable to because of the demands placed on me this last Saturday by my own farm. A visit to Hillrock is still very high on my list, an should be for everyone who’s interested in quality craft distilling.)

I recently met Jeffrey Baker the owner of Hillrock Este Distillery at Governor Cuomo’s Wine, Beer, and Spirits Summit in Albany. It’s his family farm in Ancram, New York, in the Hudson Valley. He was an early advocate of the farm-to-table movement. More than 20 years ago, Jeffrey established one of the region’s first pasture raised, sustainable beef operations producing premier Black Angus beef for his Saratoga Springs restaurant, Winslow’s. Hillrock Estate Distillery is one of the few distilleries in the world to floor malt its own naturally grown grain and produce fine hand crafted spirits on the estate. Jeffrey is an Executive Managing Director of Savills LLC, a NYC based real estate investment banking firm and holds an MBA from The Wharton Business School and Masters Degrees in Architecture and City Planning.

Hillrock is an absolutely unique place, and Jeff has hired an incredible team to help run it. With their skills, Hillrock has created immense buzz in the industry. It’s a testament to his group.
Most notably, was his Master Distiller, David Pickerell, who was previously the Master Distiller for Makers Mark. Dave directs Hillrock’s production and operations as Master Distiller. Dave has over 20 years of distillery industry experience and is respected world wide as one of the top Master Distillers and spirits experts in the industry. Dave graduated top in his class in chemical engineering at University of Louisville and also holds a BS in Chemistry from West Point. During his 14 years at Makers Mark, Dave oversaw an 80 person staff and was responsible for all aspects of production from selection of grains to choosing of barrels, distillation and final tasting. Dave provides Hillrock with unmatched industry experience in the areas of product development, business planning, system design, production, staffing/training, operations management and sales.
I also recently saw Tim Welly at a tasting of Hillrock at Hudson Wine Merchants, in Hudson, NY. I had known Tim from his days as Cellarmaster at Millbrook, while he worked under John Graziano for the last four years. He is now the Head of Operations and Distiller at Hillrock. Time has completed Intermediate and Advanced Certificate classes and is working toward a Diploma of Wine and Spirits. In addition to his work at Millbrook Vineyards, Tim has spent over 12 years in the restaurant and wine industry including positions in wine/spirits distribution & sales and as a wine buyer. Born in Toledo, Ohio, Tim later attended Ohio Wesleyan University where he studied Economics and Management.

There are two things that speak volumes about this operation. Firstly, they are totally vertical. They grow the grain, malt their barley, and make their whiskey from what they grow. If that wasn’t what made them unique enough, they also use the solera method. The solera method, where you only take a portion from each barrel each year, and then replace it for the next year, so that every year your sherry tastes the same is the same technique port and sherry manufacturers use year in and year out. It’s guarantees quality and consistency, and is extremely capital intensive to make sure the product is of the most dependable type. This kind of commitment is what is exciting people about Hillrock.
And of course, it's in the Hudson Valley, which continues to expand and be one of the most surprising and up-and-coming regions in the wine, beers, and spirits industry.

And excited they should be. The stuff tastes incredible. Smooth, with a big beautiful nose with cereal and corn and smoke….it’s absolutely smooth as silk…incredible. I see only great things for this unique operation.
I’m definitely going down to Hillrock Estate Distillery, and so should you!!!!