Hudson Valley Microdistilling | General Food & Drink | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Hudson Valley Microdistilling 

Last Updated: 08/13/2013 4:01 pm

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Such a learning curve is understandable, though, given the short time that Harvest Spirits has existed. The enterprise, only a year old, is a collaboration between Grout and his business partner Tom Crowell, who approached him with the idea after hearing how many apples the farm discards every year. Grout speaks earnestly about developing a market for all of the fruit produced in the Hudson Valley, saying “We can make truly great products from the fruit we have, and it gives us complete control from tree to bottle. Some people think imported means higher quality, so our job is to change that.” He’s determined to find ways to use all the wasted fruit in the region, whether in juice, cider (still or hard), or spirits.

The Green Fairy is loose in Delaware County
Another exciting local spirit well worth trying is the Absinthe made by Cheryl Lins in the Delaware County town of Walton, under the Delaware Phoenix label. She’s been selling it for less than a year, but it’s garnering raves from aficionados all over the country. Lins buys pharmaceutical grade neutral spirit that she uses as a blank canvas on which to mix flavors, then dilutes it to about 130 proof. “All you taste is the herbs,” she says. She makes two versions: Walton Waters and Meadow of Love. The latter has violet in place of lemon thyme, and offers a rounder, more feminine flavor profile. Both are characteristically anise-y, and the powdery, gently bitter flavor of wormwood asserts itself on the finish. Other herbs, many locally sourced, embellish the flavor with subtle details.

Absinthe is traditionally drunk diluted with three to five parts cold water to one part absinthe (sugar is optional, but not recommended) which should be slowly dripped or poured in so that the louche—the elegant clouding as insoluble compounds react to the added water—can be enjoyed. Lins’ work is exceptional, and is best savored as intended, but this reviewer made an interesting martini using Core vodka and a few drops of Meadow of Love which suggests some other possibilities. There’s also Ernest Hemingway’s famous “Death in the Afternoon” cocktail, which he described in a celebrity cookbook in 1935: “Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.”

Lins found her calling quite by accident; she read an article on the subject in early 2006 and “fell in love with the word; I needed to know what it was.” From there, she bought a small still and began making it as a hobby. In 2008 she got her federal distiller’s license, and in February of this year received her state permit. Currently she produces about 100 or so bottles a month, but expects to double that in the near future; among others, the trendy neo-speakeasies in New York City have responded very favorably to her work. Absinthe excites in part because it was illegal or quasi-legal for so long; as it stands now it is legal provided that the proportion of thujone—a compound found in wormwood—does not exceed a certain limit. Thujone was blamed for a myriad of mental and physical afflictions, but nearly all of these claims have now been shown to be spurious. And it is not hallucinogenic. Sorry. Also, any frat-house foolishness involving fire is to be avoided; that was a gimmick invented as a way of hiding the harsh flavor of inferior products from Eastern Europe.

Micro Miracle
A year ago, this article could not have been written; half of the producers were not yet up and running. Now we’re at the beginning of a full-blown renaissance of artisanal microdistilling in the Valley. Ken McGuire of In Good Taste Wine and Spirits in New Paltz is enthusiastic: “People are really clamoring for the stuff—they love the idea of local products of this caliber.” And even nondrinkers can be happy, since many of these fruit liquors make excellent additions to pâtés, sauces, or desserts. Therein lies the key to any locavore movement: When the quality is high enough, switching to a local brand is a move motivated by pleasure—the best motivator of all. And couldn’t we all use more pleasure this time of year?

Clinton Vineyards
Delaware Phoenix Distillery
Harvest Spirits
Tuthilltown Spirits
Warwick Valley Winery

click to enlarge Artisanal potables from Hudson Valley microdistillers.
  • Artisanal potables from Hudson Valley microdistillers.
click to enlarge Derek Grout of Harvest Spirits with some of his cornelius apple jack.
  • Derek Grout of Harvest Spirits with some of his cornelius apple jack.
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