Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Gotham Single Malt Whiskey: New York Produces 7 Singluarly Spectacular Single Malts!

OK, so I've been working on my second big whiskey book, my first dig-in-deep book of a companion kind in recent years was Clay Risen's  AMERICAN WHISKEY, BOURBON, AND RYE. And of course, I've been writing about local spirits since 2010.

But a revelation happened overnight.
While researching my next book, wherein I worked with more than 40 whisky writers around the world, I realized that there are seven single malt whiskies being made right here in New York state! There are few other regions around the world that boast those kind of numbers. New York state is the top producer of single malt whiskies in the US, that I can find at this moment, although there are nearly fifty or so brands in the US at this time, including impressive ones like Balcones, McCarthys, etc. The book will be out in October this year.

But the thing so intriguing to me is that they are all so good! Of course, I first started to notice some trends. Most of the single malts come from the Hudson Valley, where a bulk of the craft distilling boom has occurred within the state. Secondly, each one had garnered incredible amounts of press already. I happen to know that there are at least one to two more being planned right now. But they won't release until end of 2017 at best. But that would make for nine single malts!!!!!

Single malt whiskey remains the holy grail (the brass ring) of the distilling world. If there is such a thing as terroir, it is found in this style of whiskey. OK, to answer your first question, what the hell is single malt whiskey? According to Wikipedia:  "Single malt whisky is malt whisky from a single distillery, that is, whisky distilled from fermented mash made exclusively with malted grain (usually barley), as distinguished from unmalted grain." 

What's the difference between single malt Scotch and single malt whiskey?? Single malt Scotch is made in Scotland. Single malt whiskey is made everywhere else. There are more than 200 single malt whiskies being released every year around the world made outside of Scotland. And the number is growing.

As the craft distilling movement grows, it will continue to produce more whiskey, and more single malt whiskey. And for single malt drinkers, this couldn't come at a better time, as whiskey stocks are falling in Scotland, and prices are rising through the roof! What happened to first and second growth Bordeaux wine, is now happening to Single Malt Scotch. It's getting rarer and harder to find, especially with the growth of the Russian and Asia markets and their expanding wealth, and the limited stores of aged whiskies in a finite region. And it's getting more expensive.

In the meantime, New York is producing some stellar single malt whiskeys. I have grouped these not be importance or alphabetically. I have grouped them to how I drink them. It's a completely random and personal choice. But it might give you an idea of how I see them and how they work for me.

OK, for those of you who don't drink whiskey regularly, I always advise newbies to try unpeated Highland Single Malts. They are the entry level of the genre, and are quite good! I prefer them to many others. The two closest to that concept are John Henry Single Malt and Pine Barrens Single malt.

Long Island Spirits in Baiting Hollow produces Pine Barrens Single Malt. They are the makers of Sag Harbor Rum and Glorious Gin! Located out on Long Island, they are a small but growing power house. My favorite product from them I their Rough Rider bourbon, is one of my go to craft bourbons (but that's another story).

"I've always been a whisky fan," says Rich Stabile, the founder of Long Island Spirits and the creator of Pine Barrens Single Malt Whisky told Caskers.com. "When we decided we were going to make a whisky, we really wanted to do something different and knock people's socks off. Most American whiskies are made from corn or rye — we wanted to do something totally unique, so we decided to distill a craft beer."

Pine Barrens Single Malt Whisky is distilled from Old Howling Bastard beer (10.0% ABV). The beer, which is made from English two-row barley and Vienna malt, has a robust caramel flavor that is nicely balanced by strong notes of hops. The resulting whiskey has an aromatic nose and some lovely caramel notes. It's not heavily smoked, so it goes down real easy. If you're a bourbon drinker, this one is as close to bourbon as you might expect. A lovely dram.

Owner Derek Grout and Peter Upstill (left) have made an incredible single mat whiskey. John Henry Single Malt Whiskey I named after the longest serving employee at Golden Harvest Orchards, where Harvest Spirits, the distillery, is based. Grout has always had a light touch, and produces winner with delicate aromas and flavors like Core Vodka and Cornelius Applejack.

Harvest Spirits' John Henry Single Malt Whiskey. It's made using a beer made by Adirondack brewing, which is made from 75% New York smoky 2-row malted barley. It's double distilled. Then aged for two years. Approximately one month in new barrels, and then the rest in older applejack and bourbon barrels, or what they refer to as re-fill barrels. If your looking for a light, lovely, floral nose with Sourdough bread, caramel apple, and lots of spiced fruit, then this is your whiskey. It's a lovely, elegant, complex spirit, with layers of delicate flavors and no sense of grain alcohol or anything like that.

These two are my funky group. These two exhibit unique aromas and flavors that set them apart from your usual single malt. They are neither smoky, but both are much more floral than many other single malts you might find from, say, Scotland. And they are spicy! But in a good way! They represent more and more the kind of new trends that are developing in the New Single Malt movement. Both have received rave reviews, and are media darlings, each for their own reasons.

Van Brunt Still House Single Malt Whiskey is the hipster version of single malt. It is made in an old warehouse in Brooklyn, NY. I met Daric Schlesselman at Whisky Live NYC. It was a mob scene.
Daric partnered with his wife Sarah Ludington to establish this small artisan, unique distillery in Red Hook, Brooklyn. “Van Brunt Stillhouse first distinguished itself in the fast-growing Brooklyn distilling world early on by rolling out, as its first product, a rum called Due North. That was original; at the time, no one in Kings County was making rum,” wrote cocktail authority Robert Simonson in Edible Manhattan. “In its short life, Van Brunt Stillhouse has produced enough varieties of grain spirit for Schlesselman to be able to refer to the distillery’s ‘family of whiskeys.’”
Van Brunt Stillhouse Single Malt Whiskey is made from 100% malted barley. It is unpeated. Daric turned to Master Brewer Ian McConnell for a beer wash made at the local Six Point Brewery. Daric ages his whiskey in small kegs of new American oak for 9 months. The small barriques give more wood on liquid contact, and shorten the aging process. It gives it flavor and color bigger and faster.
Big hints of roasted barley, cocoa, and lots of honey and spice! Lots of layers here that one does not expect, especially out of something so young. And the flavor lingers on the palate nicely. No whiskey face sipping this stuff. A very good sipper with lots of spice on the nose and palate. Individual  enough to stand a little water or ice and still be exceptional. 

Ed and Laura Tiedge founded Still the One Distillery along the banks of the Byram River in Port Chester, NY. Master Distiller, Ed Tiedge, is a former officer of Marines and Wall Street bond trader who decided to pursue his passion for unique and excellent spirits. Ed works hands-on every day with his crew to make world class spirits at StilltheOne Distillery - the name of which is inspired by his wife and Chief Tasting Officer Laura, who, after all these years, is "Still the One." The distillery gained its first fame through things like Comb Vodka and Comb Gin both made from honey. Their Westchester Wheat Whiskey is also very tasty!

I have an unabashed love for this whiskey. No, full disclosure, I am a bourbon guy. I love bourbon I hate the peaty-ness of single malts, etc. I like the smoky, slightly sweet bourbons with lots of character – Whistle Pig rye, Hillrock Estate bourbon, Rebellion Bourbon, etc. But this is whiskey is big and manly. And I loved it! Ed approached Captain Lawrence’s owner, Scott Vacarro. Ed wanted to make a whiskey from one of Scott’s beers. In December of 2013, Vaccaro shipped him thousands of gallons of his Freshchester Pale Ale. Ed distilled it and 287 Single Malt Whiskey was born. The name comes from the Westchester highway (that I myself have driven maybe a couple thousand times) that connects Still the One Distillery and the Captain Lawrence Brewery.

This whiskey, even with sweeter notes, is bone dry. And I like a slightly sweeter brown spirit generally, but this was smooooth. I was absolutely shocked. Great nose. Cereal. Vanilla. There were hints of soft fruit, spice, nuts, and maybe a sherry-like quality to it? I really liked it. I now know that is was Ed that started me down the road to a greater appreciation of whiskey. Regardless, this was outstanding whiskey!!!

OK, I set Tuthilltown off on it's own. That's because it is iconic. Firstly, it's a big, strong aggressive whiskey. Tuthilltown is known for it's big upfront flavor. That's why this is my go to whiskey cocktail choice. Even after you use it in a cocktail you still taste whiskey. No wilting flower in an Old Fashioned or a Rob Roy. This whiskey stands up.

But credit where it's due, Hudson Single Malt is the brain child of Ralph Erenzo. He was not the first to have a till in New York or the Hudson Valley, but he is one of the people who gave birth the serious craft distilling scene. While others were making fruit brandies and eau de vies, Ralph said enough of this, and started making the first rye, the first bourbon, an the first single mats in the valley and in the state. He created a line and a brand so ubiquitous and so famous that is was leveraged by the world's largest whiskey producer and distributor William Grant and Sons of the UK.  You could babble on forever about all the things everyone else in the craft distillery business have done. You you'd be right. But they all owe a debt of gratitude to Ralph. It's not even a conversation.  

Now, as far as their products, I love Tuthilltown's Hudson Manhattan Rye and I like their Hudson Baby Bourbon. And I like their Hudson Four Grain whiskey as well. All were firsts in the state, and some of the biggest early successes of the craft distilling movement. And heir cassis is drop dead gorgeous.

Hudson Single Malt Whiskey is made local from ground malted barley. Period. It's aged in small new American Oak casks. The new oak gives it a deeper, more woody flavor, making it incredibly spicy and iconic. It's not meant to be a copy of Scotch, it their take on the idea of an American single malt whiskey. Hudson Single Malt is a big whiskey. Even for the most hardened and ardent whiskey lovers, a splash of water, or a few rocks will not wilt this spirit. In fact, I would argue, it does this spirit good, giving the liquid more time to aromatize and open up.

OK, the last two are probably the best examples of an American version of Islay-styled Scotch whiskey. They are both peat-y, smoky whiskies. They are wholly American, and are each completely impressive on their own. Hillrock Estate Single Malt is at this time one of the best Single Malts made in North America, and is one of the few farm-to-glass whiskies made in the world. They set the standard, and they raise the bar every year. End of story. Orange County Distillers in a much smaller, hipster version of the same kind (estate grown and made), and is just releasing their first expressions which show immense promise of the same kind.  

When you first get to Orange Count Distillery, it has a kind of worn, rough, Green Acres quality about it. But soon you realize there is something very special going on inside. Orange County Distillery was founded by John Glebocki and Bryan Ensall.  Co-Owner and Co-Founder John Glebocki is the owner of J. Glebocki Farms, a fifth-generation farm in Goshen, New York.  Co-Owner and Co-Founder Bryan Ensall is the owner of a lawn care franchise. These two small business owners somehow found the spare time away from their full-time jobs to build the distillery from the ground up. John is the farmer and down-n-dirty guy, in charge of everything planted and harvested.  Bryan is the paperwork and reporting guy.  

Together they do all the mashing, fermenting, distilling, aging and bottling.  There really isn't anything these two don't do. Orange County Distillery doesn't pretend to be something it's not.  They are not a huge operation. 1,600 square feet! My house is bigger!

We started off my tour with John showing me the peat, which they get from the Black Dirt region right there on their own farm, to smoke their single malt whiskey and other products!

Loved the single malt whiskey. Tight. Compact. But big flavor. Despite a small imprint, and a comparatively low budget (compared to Tuthilltown and Hillrock Estate), Orange County produces lovely, sophisticated craft spirits. This Orange County Single Malt Whiskey has the lovely caramel overtones of a bourbon, but balanced out beautifully with a small dollop of smoke. This is a beautifully balanced spirit. This is a slow, sipping Single Malt Whiskey.

The crown jewel of American single malt, and the most amazing distillery experience awaits you at Hillrock Estate, a jewel box of a distillery if ever there was one. Hillrock is a four-headed hydra of talent! Jeff Baker, the owner, is the man with the vision and the strength to pull together the talent necessary; Dave Pickerell, one of the most famous master distillers in North America, is the head distiller; Tim Welly is the man who makes the trains actually run on time; and Danielle Eddie is the ultimate promoter, who needs to be mentioned in the same level of respect as some one like Allison Patel (formerly of Balcones, and now with her own distillery, Brenne). This is one of only a hand few of field to glass, a completely seamless vertical operation in North America. That's right, Hillrock grows it's own barley, wheat, and rye and makes distillates from their own farm grown cereals!
Everything about this complex is extremely well executed. In terms of sheer beauty and sophistication . Incredible!

Dave Pickerell, a graduate of West Point, former chemistry professor there, and a left tackle in his day, is well known as the master distiller for many years at Makers Mark, and is also the master distiller for a handful of smaller craft distilleries including the famed Whistle Pig Distillery, in Vermont. There are few master distillers who have accumulated more medals, or more accolades, that Mr. Pickerell's spirits.  


At Hillrock they have a malting floor, where the estate grown grain is soaked, and then raked for three days before it starts to sprout. It's at that point, that Hillrock begins its process. The whiskey for the single mat is aged in former bourbon barrels and finished in former port and sherry casks.

The result is an amazingly complex spirit, that professional spirits journalists will go out of their way for to taste. It has layers of caramel and fig and honey and apricot and molasses and cereal, tinged beautifully with smoke. An absolutely extravagant whiskey that has garnered rave reviews from around the world. There are not enough exclamations that one can add to the number of incredible scores and reviews this whiskey has achieved. And like any good house, Hillrock is doing limited releases of different finishings. Very exciting. 

Conclusion? New York state is an exciting place to be if you're into whiskey. There are more whisky distilleries in the Hudson Valley alone, than anywhere else east of Kentucky and Tennessee. And some of he best single malts are being produced in the Empire State. And more are on the boards at some of the other smaller distilleries. There should be an easy dozen before the end of 2018. However, it's not just about quantity. The bar has been raised high by this first wave of Single Malt Whiskeys. It should only get better from here. Another reason to love the Empire State.