(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
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!!!!