When I arrived on my first visit to Hillrock Estate Distillery in Ancram, NY, I found two people in deep conversation at the table –Jeff Baker, the owners of Hillrock, whom I expected to see, and Ariel Schlein, co-founder and President of Dutch’s Spirits, who I did not expect to see, but was a pleasant surprise. Areil was there to tour the new distillery just as I was. But it was a great introduction to Dutch’s Spirits, one of the other new distillery happening in the Hudson Valley!
Since the death of mobster Dutch Schultz in 1935, rumors have proliferated about the whereabouts of his buried treasure up near the craggy ranges of the Catskill Mountains – one of his favorite getaways.
For those uninitiated with Schultz, Dutch Schultz (born Arthur Flegenheimer; August 6, 1901 – October 24, 1935) was a New York City-area German-Jewish American mobster of the 1920s and 1930s who made his fortune in organized crime-related activities such as bootlegging alcohol and the numbers racket. Weakened by two tax evasion trials led by prosecutor Thomas Dewey, Schultz's rackets were threatened by fellow mobster Lucky Luciano. In an effort to avert his conviction, Schultz asked the Commission for permission to kill Dewey, which they declined. After Schultz disobeyed the Commission and attempted to carry out the hit, they ordered his assassination in 1935. You might have seen a movie about him entitled Billy Bathgate.
But there’s more to the story than just naming the distillery after a famous mobster. There’s a more interesting tie-in. In 2010, a different kind of fortune was unearthed in the town of Pine Plains, New York. Unlike the many other searches made over the previous decades, here lay a find discovered almost eighty years earlier. Less than a mile from the town center stood a 400 acre swath of land known as Harvest Homestead Farm, owned and operated by the Adams family for generations. It was in the heart of this land, beneath a nondescript bunkhouse atop a hill, that the treasure was buried. It wasn’t the legendary suitcase of gold or cash. It wasn’t a trove of jewels or stacks of bonds. It was a find much more rare and valuable to its beholders. Discovered on this farm were the foundations of a sprawling complex – a clandestine distillery, the likes of which had never been seen before.
Financed by Schultz and built by rotating teams of local workers during the last gasps of Prohibition in the spring of 1932, this massive underground distilling operation produced thousands of gallons of moonshine against the idyllic backdrop of rural Pine Plains. Here, a sprawling network of interconnected tunnels, bunkers and false chimneys ensured, for short while at least, that detection by the authorities was avoided. The“hooch” was produced in an elaborate distillery cleverly secluded in an old cow barn, and constructed of steel reinforced concrete, valves, and pipes scattered throughout the property. Spring houses supplied water from underground aquifers, and a swimming pool served as a cooling reservoir. Tunnels spread throughout the farm, serving as secret passageways between the structures for its workers and as a means of speedy exit in case of trouble. An open secret to his own family, co-founder Alex Adams’s grandfather, Charles, worked the farm at the time as a young “potato harvester.”
Despite their best efforts, the production of moonshine in a sleepy country town did not escape detection. After numerous previous failed attempts, just after dusk on Monday, October 17, 1932, Federal agents raided the site. Among the items found were two 2,000 gallon stills in operation, two high pressure boilers, over 15,000 gallons of mash, 10,000 pounds of sugar, two Ford trucks, one Reo truck, and a Lincoln sedan. Two workers were arrested, and two days later, twelve federal agents returned to destroy all of the equipment seized.
Over the next 78 years, the farm would undergo many changes. Its owner, Patrick Ryan, was a retired New York City policeman, which may have played a part in his avoidance of prison for harboring the distillery. After the raid, he quietly reverted the property back to its turkey farm origins. In 1969, the house fell to Janet and Charles Adams, the same “potato harvester”who had worked at the distillery over thirty years earlier. For forty more years, the Adams family kept watch over the farm and its buried secrets. Then, in the Spring of 2008, Charles’s grandson Alex Adams and close friend Ariel Schlein learned of the passage of the New York farm distillers’ law. They decided it was time to write another chapter in Dutch’s history.
In July 2011, after an extensive archaeological survey and review, the site was added to the New York State Archaeological Inventory as a“Bootleg Era Bunker Complex”, while the New York State Historic Preservation Office deemed it eligible for inclusion in the State and National Register of Historic places. Now, almost eighty years later, Dutch’s Spirits is building a new distillery in the footprint of the original bunkhouse site – the foundations of which are still being unearthed.
The spirits were originally distilled and blended at another distillery while the new works are being secured and erected at Shultz’s old “digs.”The new facility will be opened to viewing in the spring, and then hopefully by fall, they will be fully operational…and more importantly, visit-able.
The current aim of Dutch’s Spirits? To become a self-sustaining farm operation and agritourism destination specializing in artisanal hand-made spirits. Our first products, produced locally in New York State, include Dutch’s Spirits Sugar Wash Moonshine, Dutch’s Spirits Peach Brandy, and Dutch‘s Colonial Cocktail Bitters. They welcome you to join them on their journey as they rebuild this historic site.
Ariel Schlein (Founding Partner & President) is spearheading the vision behind Dutch’s Spirits. An avid triathlete, Ariel has spent years swimming, cycling, and running the Hudson Valley, spawning a well-worn love affair with the land. Owing to his friendship with Alex Adams, his passion for the region and its history blossomed through the discovery of the treasure that lay beneath Harvest Homestead Farm. His free time is spent furrowing through old newspapers, maps, and photo libraries, cornering archeologists, or exploring Dutchess County’s burgeoning food, wine and spirits landscape.
Alex Adams (Founding Partner) was born and raised in Poughkeepsie, New York, a short drive from Pine Plains where his family farm –Harvest Homestead Farm – has lain for eighty years. His father, a prominent local land use attorney, was raised near the farm alongside four siblings, two of whom currently call the town home. Alex’s grandfather worked the land as a young “potato harvester” when the original distillery was in production.
Ethan R. Kelley (Sales& Marketing) has 18 years of full time experience behind the bar – from nightclubs and pubs to high-end lounges and cocktail havens. Most recently, he was the Beverage Director for Brandy Library in TriBeCa, Manhattan – one of the most revered spirits collections in the world. A well-respected teacher on the subject of spirits, Ethan has developed spirits lists for notable bars and restaurants across the country, and instructed members of the industry from bartenders, marketing professionals, and sales forces.
The two products I tried were Sugar Wash Moonshine and Peach Brandy.
Dutch’s Spirits Sugar Wash Moonshine is a nod to that bottled lightning made in Dutch’s cavernous distillery, its stills burning beneath the fields of Harvest Homestead Farm in Hudson Valley, New York. This handcrafted, 100% Cane Neutral Spirit was produced in small batches from pure Demerara sugar using artisan copper pot stills. This is a light, clean very smooth spirit. In the glass bears aromas of cotton candy, molassas, and other spices. Nice notes of butterscotch and vanilla and a hint of maple syrup. There is nothing sweet about this incredibly drinkable white whiskey. It goes down very easy! 40% ABV
Dutch’s Spirits Peach Brandy is an ode to the old Dutch settlers. Peach brandy was originally a farmhouse product made with surplus fruit, peach brandy was one of the most popular spirits in America throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Dutch’s Spirits Peach Brandy is handcrafted in the same traditional 19th century style. Each bottle of this limited batch is hand labeled and numbered. Distilled in artisanal copper pots and aged in a combination of toasted and charred oak barrels, the brandy gives off the immediate smell of peach cobble, with the fruit and the bread coming through, but other aromas also evolves, such as vanilla, tropical fruits, and maybe a hint of gingerbread. Brown sugar and spice also come through on the palate, but for as much as the nose smells deceivingly sweet, the brandy is as dry as a bone, with lots of spice on the finish. For all the packaging and descriptions, this is a dry brandy of very good quality! Also, begging to be made into cocktails!!!! 40% ABV
They also make a bitters I didn't get to experience. Very exciting though. It's distributed by a nmber of organizations, especially into the very exciting Manhattan and Brooklyn bar scenes.
Schultz's Spirits has plans for a number of other fun and exciting products. Another very cool addition to the very, very hot and happening scene going on in the Hudson Valley, where wine, beers, ciders, and spirits are making a huge impact, and makign the region one of the hottest on the east coast!