Monday, April 08, 2013

Kentucky on the Hudson (NY)

Kentucky may be the Bordeaux of the bourbon world, but there’s an upstart region breaking into the game and garnering a lot of good reviews – the Hudson Valley! With six highly touted distilleries, the Hudson Valley has become one of the distilling capitals of the east coast. And now, there are four wonderful, flavorful bourbons being produced from top to bottom.

That’s right. Home to Henry Hudson’s Half Moon, the steamship, the Clearwater, the Culinary Institute of America, and the birthplace of the Hudson River School of Art, the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts, and the Livingstons, as well as being the birthplace of American wine, the Hudson is also now home to a little bit of my Old Kentucky Home right there on the waters that cut through the heart of the Empire State.

The Hudson Valley is home to some of the hottest new distilleries in the east, and is fast gaining a reputation for fine distilled spirits. Tuthilltown Spirits in Gardner; Hillrock Estate Distillery in Ancram; Albany Distilling in Albany; Harvest Spirits in Valatie; Dutch’s Spirits in Pine Bush; and Catskill Distilling in Woodstock have created a small but impressive galaxy of high profile brands and products that have gained national attention.
The New York Times, Wine Enthusiast, Men’s Journal, Esquire, Imbibe magazine, and numerous other publications and websites have lauded this powerful little armada of high octane potables. Attention to the region was so intense that Tuthilltown, still run by its founder, Ralphn Erenzo, was bought by the U.K. distilling giant Grant, the largest whisky producer and distributor in the world.

Together, these companies have produced such amazing products as Hillrock Estate Solera Bourbon; Core Vodka; Tuthilltown Rye; Warwick Gin; Cornelius Applejack, Peace Vodka, Dutch’s Sugar Wash Moonshine, Ironweed Whiskey, and many others. This impressive list can be found in all the hippest bars throughout the New York metro-region, and especially in Gotham’s hippest and swankiest bars and speakeasies.

No other region in New York, or on the east coast, boasts that kind of distilling firepower.

But if there’s one thing that these companies have in common is that there’s a bourbon in most of their lines. And these bourbons are fast finding their way into Manhattan stores, restaurants and bars, and are gaining national recognition for their quality and their taste!

Two Fingers of Bourbon History

So what is Bourbon? According to Wikipedia, “Bourbon whiskey is a type of American whiskey – a barrel-aged distilled spirit made primarily from corn. The name of the spirit derives from its historical association with an area known as Old Bourbon, around what is now Bourbon County, Kentucky (which, in turn, was named after the French House of Bourbon royal family). It has been produced since the 18th century. While it may be made anywhere in the United States, it is strongly associated with the American South in general, and Kentucky in particular. Bourbon is served straight, diluted with water, over ice cubes, or mixed with soda and into cocktails, including the Manhattan, the Old Fashioned, and the mint julep. It is also used in cooking, especially competition barbecue.

The tradition of making whiskey became truly notable in the U.S. when the Whiskey Rebellion was a tax protest in the United States beginning in 1791, during the presidency of George Washington. Farmers, especially in Western Pennsylvania, used their leftover grain and corn in the form of whiskey as a medium of exchange were forced to pay a new tax. But that is not the history of Bourbon. That’s whiskey.
According to spirits expert Charles K. Cowdrey, “When American pioneers pushed west of the Allegheny Mountains following the American Revolution, the first counties they founded covered vast regions. One of these original, huge counties was Bourbon, established in 1785 and named after the French royal family. While this vast county was being carved into many smaller ones, early in the 19th century, many people continued to call the region Old Bourbon. Located within Old Bourbon was the principal Ohio River port from which whiskey and other products were shipped. "Old Bourbon" was stenciled on the barrels to indicate their port of origin. Old Bourbon whiskey was different because it was the first corn whiskey most people had ever tasted. In time, bourbon became the name for any corn-based whiskey.”

Bourbon's legal definition today varies somewhat from country to country, but many trade agreements require the name Bourbon to be reserved for products made in the United States. The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits state that bourbon made for U.S. consumption must be made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn and aged in new, charred-oak barrels among other regulations.

Some think that Bourbon only comes from Kentucky. It only seems that way. “It has been reported that 97% of all bourbon is distilled and aged somewhere near Bardstown, Kentucky, which is home to the annual Bourbon Festival held each September, and has been called the "Bourbon Capital of the World." The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is made up of seven distilleries in Kentucky: Four Roses, Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, Town Branch, Wild Turkey, and Woodford Reserve.

Tennessee is home to other major bourbon producers, though three of the four main producers don't call the finished product bourbon. Jack Daniel's is a notable example. But the methods for producing Tennessee whiskey fit the characteristics of bourbon production, and "Tennessee whiskey" is legally defined under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

New York State of Mind
Tuthilltown Hudson Baby Bourbon is the veritable grand-dad of the Hudson valley bourbons. Ralph Erenzo and his team broke the hold Kentucky and Tennessee seemed to have on this famous brown spirit when they launched their first elixir Hudson Baby Bourbon. Hudson Baby Bourbon was and remains the first bourbon whiskey to be distilled in New York. This single grain bourbon is made from 100% New York corn and aged in small American Oak barrels. This unique aging process produces a mildly sweet, smooth spirit with hints of vanilla and caramel. This Bourbon was Tuthilltown’s first whiskey and the first legal pot-distilled whiskey made in New York state since prohibition.

“I picked up a little bottle of Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey from Tuthilltown Spirits in Gardiner, N.Y., not far from New Paltz. Tuthilltown is New York’s only distillery, and therefore makes New York’s only bourbon, as well as its only rye, vodka and corn whiskey,” wrote Eric Asimov in the New York Times in February 2007. “…I think it will make a delicious mint julep, and I’m looking forward to trying out my friend Jason’s recipe for the bourbon sidecar.”


Warwick Black Dirt Bourbon was released about a year ago. The first run of this potent potable sold out in the first few weeks. The demand was so incredible, writers and mixologists from all over the metro region alike were calling looking to get bottles shipped to them. Black Dirt refers to the region in the southern part of the Hudson Valley that borders New Jersey where the loamy soil is actually black and is famous for growing onions and corn. The dark, fertile soil left by an ancient glacial lake that once covered Thousands of acres of upstate New York is the base of these fields. The corn is locally grown in the famous black dirt and used to make the mash. Perfectly suited for growing crops such as corn, this Black Dirt has never been used for Bourbon production – until now.

“It’s easy to see why the stuff sold out so quickly: Made with a mashbill of 80 percent corn—grown in the black dirt, of course—12 percent malted barley and 8 percent rye, and aged for three years in charred oak barrels, the result is a dry, almost chocolaty whiskey with loads of local character,” wrote Kara Newman in Edible Manhattan’s February 2013 edition. “The way-too-limited-edition problem won’t be an issue this time, Kidde told me later. Warwick is in the process of building a second stand-alone distillery to increase production. A second, 100-proof bourbon is on the way; a rye and single malt American whiskey also have been discussed.
Hillrock Estate Solera Bourbon is raising lots of eyebrows. “Hillrock is the first U.S. distillery since before Prohibition to floor malt and hand craft whiskey on site from estate-grown grain, making them one of the world’s few “field-to-glass” whiskey producers.” Wrote Jonny McCormick in the Winter 2012 Whisky Advocate. “…It’s the outfit’s whiskey that will raise the most eyebrows. It’s a solera Bourbon, and, according to Master Distiller Dave Pickerell, it’s the first of its kind, since the solera system typically is only used in Sherry making. A gradual blending process, it involves topping off a few select older barrels with younger whiskey,” wrote Robert Simonson in the November 15, 2012 Wine Enthusiast.

“Hillrock further distinguished itself by building its own malting house. (Malting is the practice by which dampened, germinating barley is dried and thus halted in its growth; the grain can then proceed to fermentation.) A handful of Scotch producers still malt a portion of their barley, but the practice is all but extinct in the United States,” wrote Simonson, this time in the New York Times in October 2012.

Pickerell says he uses the Spanish technique to achieve both blending consistency and depth of flavor. “It will just continue to get deeper in character,” he says.

Highly acclaimed spirits authority David Wondrich wrote of Hillrock in Esquire magazine, “has the floral notes of a young whiskey tempered by the nuttiness of an older one.”

“It is a good whiskey, with a cinnamon-spicy, fruit-laced finish,” wrote John Hansell in Whiskey Advocate In July 2012. ‘There’s not going to be a lot of whiskey out of Hillrock, but I suspect we’ll be seeing more of them, and more of this type of high-end distillery…This is going to be part of the future of whiskey distilling, a small and very interesting part.”
Catskill Distilling Most Righteous Bourbon Is made by Monte Sachs,s the mater distiller at Catskill Distilling, in the Hudson Valley. He’s passionate about two things – chemistry and distilling. And he believes that local ingredients make the difference in quality and taste. reported, “Catskill Distilling Company’s Most Righteous Bourbon is the result of a collaboration between Sachs and Lincoln Henderson, the creator of Woodford Reserve Bourbon and Gentleman Jack Tennessee Whiskey. Sachs sources a mash of 70% corn, 20% rye and 10% malted barley from Cochecton Mills, a local farm in upstate New York, and then mills the grains inside his 5,000 square-foot distillery.”

According to Monte, “We’ve taken the best of Kentucky know-how and mixed it with New York ingenuity to produce our first, limited release aged spirit – a smooth, beautifully spicy, brilliant bronze bourbon.”

Seems a lot of folks agree. Caskers concluded, “Most Righteous Bourbon has a nose of caramel and fudge, with initial notes of butterscotch, toffee molasses and dried fruits. The flavors give way to slightly spicier notes of cinnamon, ginger and a touch of spice before leading to a soft, smooth finish. Most Righteous Bourbon earned the Gold Medal at The Fifty Best Tasting Competition in 2012 and was “highly recommended” in the F. Paul Pacult’s Spirit Journal.”

I had this bourbon, and I have to agree. This is a big, warm, brown bottle of just gorgeous bourbon.
Albany Distilling Ironweed Bourbon Whiskey Is made by owners John Curtin and Matthew Jager who are proud to be a part of New York State's rich heritage of spirit production. They are located right next to the Pump Station in downtown Albany.

Albany Distilling is among the newer of the distillers of the region. Ironweed is an homage to Albany's indomitable spirit. Nearly a century after Prohibition ended Albany's rich tradition of distilling spirits, Ironweed whiskey captures the both the essence of a bygone era and the spirit of modern innovation.

Made exclusively from whole grain, water, and yeast, Ironweed acquires its rich color and much of its distinctive flavor from time spent aging in oak. It is produced in small batches using New York State grain, and great care is taken on every step along the way; it is truly a craft spirit, from mill to bottle.

All of these are big, lux bourbons, each with a different style. Some are big and robust, some are leaner and better for mixing. But either way, you tell anyone you know that they should be trying these new bourbons, and the other distilled products from the Hudson Valley. So next time you’re hankering for a taste your Old Kentucky Home remember, you gotta put yourself in a New York State of Mind.