Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Kentucky Bourbon Tales: Distilling the Family Business

Kentucky Education Television (KET) in partnership with the The Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries and  Kentucky Distillers' Association (KDA) have released a one hour documentary titled Kentucky Bourbon Tales: Distilling the Family Business.  The documentary is streamed here and is quite informative.  It captures an oral history of several of the leading families in the Kentucky bourbon industry as well as documenting the entire whiskey process. These families include the Beams at  The Jim Beam® Distillery and Heaven Hill Distilleries; the Russells at Wild Turkey; the Samuels at Maker's Mark Distillery; the players behind the Brown-Forman Early Times Distillery; Master Distiller Jim Rutledge at Four Roses Distillery; and Master Distiller William Pratt at Michter’s Distillery, LLC.

You will also need to read this critique by Chuck Cowdery on a few major missing players: Sazerac's Buffalo Trace, Pappy Van Winkle, & Elmer T. Lee. Regardless, the documentary is highly recommended for those interested in all things bourbon.

Update: The Buffalo Trace Oral History Project includes several videos of the families not included in the KET video also hosted through the The Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Angel's Envy - Is Bourbon Aged in Port Casks Still Legally Bourbon?

I recently received a bottle of the Angel's Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Port Finish - which is almost as nice as their Cask Strength. For those unfamiliar with the brand, it was started by the late Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson and his son Wes. Henderson helped develop several major bourbon brands such as Woodford Reserve, Jack Daniel's Gentleman Jack, and Jack Daniel's Single Barrel and is an inaugural member of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame.

Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon is produced using the legal requirements for Bourbon - over 51% corn, aged in new charred American Oak, as well as meeting a few proof requirements. It is entitled to be labeled Straight since it has aged more than four years, in this case at least six years. But then the whiskey is aged between three to six months in used 60-gallon ruby port barrels made from French oak. The result is a complex whiskey: vanilla, toasty honey, candied citrus, and plenty of nutty character. But, with this final finish - can the product be legally labeled a Bourbon?  Any ideas out there?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Learning about Wines of Southwest France (Fronton & Cahors) on #Winechat

The last two weeks of #WineChat featured a discussion of the Wines of Southwest France - "a lush, hilly wine region that occupies the corner bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the west, and Spain and the Pyrenees Mountains on the south. The region is home to a string of more than two dozen winemaking appellations whose producers are united by a passion for place. Some of the world’s great grape varieties originated here and many of the area’s lesser-known varieties are grown nowhere else." 

One wine grape that originated there was Malbec, specifically from the sub-region of Cahors; another Negrette, from Fronton.  For the second week I was sent samples of each from Chambers Street, the Cosse Maisonneuve 2009 Cahors Le Combal (13.5% ABV,  $19.99) and Colombière 2010 Fronton Bellouguet (13.5% ABV, $15.99).

Cahors, is located due north of Toulouse, and the birthplace of the Malbec grape and is known locally as Cot or Auxerrois.  AOC regulations in Cahors stipulates that Malbec must comprise at least 70% of all blends with Merlot and Tannat rounding out the rest. These are black wines, dark and chewy as perfected illustrated by the Cosse Maisonneuve 2009 Cahors Le Combal. This is a fantastic wine, cassis and stewed plum on the aroma, with deep chewy tannins. And I mean chewy and made from organic grapes.

Fronton is also located north of Toulouse, just not as far north and is home to Négrette, where at least 40% must be included in a final blend. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Malbec, Fer and Gamay are the other grapes permitted. The Colombière 2010 Fronton Bellouguet is a funky wine, where the aroma is sweet anise - very gin like - followed by dark fruit flavors with a nice transition into a juicy tannic finish. Another fantastic wine.

This is one wine region I'll continue to explore. Cheers.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Who Makes Trader Joe's La Ferme Julien?

You may have seen two La Ferme Julien wines on sale at Trader Joe's at the enticing price of $5.99. At that price I purchased one of each and went home to research. The wines are produced by Famille Perrin, the same family that owns the famous Château de Beaucastel that produces Châteauneuf-du-Pape in southern Rhône. You may be familiar with estate since it is the co founder with Robert Haas of Paso Robles' Tablas Creek Vineyard.  In 1978 Jean Pierre Perrin and François Perrin took over management of the estate from their father Jacques Perrin and soon introduced La Vieille Ferme - an inexpensive Côtes du Rhône - that quickly became very popular. Look for the chicken on the label. Trade Joe's recognized this trend and contracted with Famille Perrin to create a private label version - the goat version.

The two wines are blends of four southern Rhône varieties. The grapes for the La Ferme Julien Blanc are sourced from the Côtes du Luberon and consist of Bourboulenc, Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc, and Vermentino. Not exactly your household names. The wine starts with stone fruit aromas, leading to a citric flavor - both lemon and grapefruit. It starts nicely, but then falls flat at the finish because of a lack in acids and vibrancy. The La Ferme Julien Rouge is comprised of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault sourced from the Côtes de Ventoux. Both Ventoux and Luberon are located in the extremely southeast region of the Rhône leading to Provence. This is a simple wine, the term "rustic" is used quite often as a descriptor, and is very easy on the palette. Nothing exciting about either wine, but at $6, you get what you pay for.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Music, Shaw, & Right Proper Brewing Company

 Planning for a night out at the 930 Club, DC9, or Howard Theatre in Washington DC's Shaw neighborhood? Then head out a little early to sample some delicious beer and food from Right Proper Brewing Company. This past week before attending Centro-matic's farewell tour at DC9, I stopped in for dinner and a couple beers. The beauty of these beers start with their low ABV levels; no one wants too much alcohol before watching a show. Or maybe so. In any case, despite these low ABVs, the beer are diverse and flavorful. I started with the farmhouse radler Kodachrome Dream(ing) - a sour tart, creamy, and citrus collaboration with Michael Tonsmeire - The Mad Fermentationist. Love the sours.Being an Uncle Tupelo and alt-country fan, I had to order the No Depression country alt - a solid offering.  I need this in the can for road trips. I had time for one more which had to be the Haxan porter - a dark chocolate, creamy, slightly bitter treat. A versatile beer - breakfast or dessert. There's plenty of good music on the horizon so I envision many return visits to Right Proper. Cheers. Need directions? Check out theCompass.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Laphroaig Quarter Cask and Triple Wood plus a Square Foot of Islay

This spring, I was reintroduced to the smoky peat flavor of Laphroaig Scotch Whisky at the Food & Wine Festival at National Harbor and have settled into a long term relationship. At that time I sampled from their Quarter Cask and Triple Wood, both with distinct and varying degrees of smoke, sweetness, and spice. These two whiskies follow the same production and maturation process. After the malt is smoked with dried peat, mashed and distilled, the whisky starts aging in American Oak (retired Bourbon barrels). The second maturation occurs in even smaller Quarter Casks. At this point, the whiskey bound for the Triple Wood undergoes a final maturation in large European Oak Oloroso Sherry Casks. The Quarter Cask is very Laphroag-ish with plenty of iodine and smoked peat, even some seaweed, on the nose and body. And the maturation process induces some major vanilla and sticky honey which is more evident with a few drops of water. On the other hand, the Triple Wood is a different Beast. The Oloroso Sherry Casks tones down the iodine and peat with even more smoky, syrupy, and nutty vanilla honey. The peat comes back slightly with water, but the Triple Wood is all about the wood: nuts, vanilla, and honey. Initially I favored the Quarter Cask, but lately I'm all about the Triple Wood and its smoky jam. And this Christmas I'll be looking to add some more square footage to my lifetime lease on Islay. Cheers.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Another New Brewery in Ocean City, Maryland: Assawoman Bay Brewing Company

Ocean City Maryland has a growing craft beer scene and the newest entrant is Assawoman Bay Brewing Company, located in the 45th Street Village. For those unfamiliar with this Maryland beach community, Assawoman Bay is the lagoon that separates the Ocean City peninsula with the Delmarva mainland and the name comes from the Algonquian Indians who originally lived here. This weekend the brewery itself was closed, but the beers were available next door at their sister location: the 45th Street Taphouse.  Over lunch, I sampled through the brewery's eight offerings ranging from the Bayside Blonde to the Commodore Decatur Black IPA. This IPA was one of my favorites, with a creamy, toasted malt flavor finishing with dark chocolate bitterness. It also provides a historical lesson, being named for local Naval hero Stephen Decatur. Another favorite was the spicy Red Head Rye Ale, Angry Clown Brown Ale, and Sunsationale Belgium Pale Ale.  Well done and, as always, theCompass Winery Brewery Distillery app can guide your there. Cheers.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Old York Cellars #VirtualVines - Dry Riesling & Malbec

Last week Old York Cellars hosted another Virtual Wines video tasting with wine maker Scott Gares and Sommelier Laurin Dorman. While a wine dinner was being served at the winery, Gares and Dorman gave an overview of two of the wineries latest releases, the 2013 Dry Riesling ($17, 1% RS, 13.0% ABV) and 2013 Malbec ($17, 13.8% ABV). I was fortunate enough to receive a sample so that I could participate as well. We started with the riesling where the tasting notes suggest: a dry, crisp white with hints of stonefruit and red delicious apple. Pair with your favorite sushi roll. Gares used R2 yeast to provide more apple and cream characters and I definitely noticed a tart, creamy honeycrisp flavor. Gares also talked about how the wine was harvested and fermented to retain acids, but that was one aspect my specific bottle lacked. The wine fell flat at the finish. I need to try another. And as with the case with all Old York Cellars wines, Dorman suggests a chocolate pairing, for the Riesling milk chocolate with 30% cocoa.

Turning to the Malbec, the tasting notes read "this medium bodied red has luscious red fruit flavors and silky, smooth finish. Pair with your favorite burger". Gares said the grapes were harvested at 24 brix which equates to a higher ph and lower acids. He spent two weeks pumping over and pushing down the fermenting juice and skins until the wine acquired the color and flavor he targeted. The wine was then aged in American oak. The result? There's a lot to love about this wine starting with the character, fruit forward, approachable, soft tannins, and a hint of spices. I also detect some cedar leather in both the aroma and palette. Finally, you have to like the low alcohol (13.8%) and the suggested chocolate pairing is smooth dark at 50-60% cocoa. I'm looking forward to seeing more of the beauty. Cheers.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Lodi, Old-Vine Zinfandel, and Oak Ridge Winery Old Zin Vines

The Lodi AVA is located in California's Central Valley - east of San Francisco Bay and west of the Sierra Nevada foothills.  It's Mediterranean climate of hot days and cool nights (maritime breezes) creates a conducive environment for wine grapes - particularly Lodi's signature grape: Zinfandel. And usually old-vine zinfandel. Old vine? Some of these vines are 120 years old, gnarly, with very small yields.  The Historic Vineyard Society, documents older vineyards in the interest of preservation and defines old vines or historic vines as:
        • Currently productive vines
        • Vines planted no later than 1960
        • At least one third of vines traceable to the original planting date

One Lodi winery producing old-vine zinfandel is also the region's oldest continually operating producer, Oak Ridge Winery. The was founded in 1934 as a winemaking cooperative of local grape growers. In 2001, Rudy Maggio and his partners, Don and Rocky Reynolds purchased the winery and retained many aspects of the historical property - for instance the building for Lodi's first tasting room.  Today the produces several brands including its signature Old Zin Vines (“OZV”).  The wine is made from grapes harvested from 50-100 year old zinfandel vines spread throughout the winery's various estate vineyards. Juice from certain lots are aged in various toast levels, whereas some are aged in stainless steel.  The lots are then blended together that is intended to be bright and fruity while retaining richness and depth.

Last week I received a sample of the “OZV” which comes in at 13.95% ABV and retails in the low teen. Like that price point. The wine starts with red fruit and tobacco on the nose, followed by chewy candied raspberry flavor, and finishing rather nicely (decent acids).  This is a rather nice everyday wine, both in the palette and financially. And according to the winery's locator - available in most states. Cheers to that.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Cider Week Quiz: Which U.S. state hosts the most hard cider producers?

With apple season in full swing, hard cider is experiencing a seasonal renaissance with increased exposure from consumers, the media, and online tastings (#winestudio). Plus, Cider week starts November 14th in both Virginia and the Hudson Valley -- where consumers can learn more about the beverage through special tastings and events.

Hard cider is produced in 33 states and six Canadian provinces, and I recently learned that Quebec hosts the largest number of cider producers in North America with 53. This number includes both wineries and cideries as well as distilleries that distill hard cider.  So which U.S. state hosts the largest number of hard cider producers? and theCompass Mobile Application don't tell the full story, since they are limited to establishment's with tasting rooms. Care to guess?  I'll release the answer and source on Friday. Cheers.

Which state hosts the most hard cider producers?
New York
Please Specify:
Poll Maker

Friday Update: According to the Cider Guide website there are 29 cider producers in Oregon, 30 in Michigan and California, 33 in Washington, and 39 in New York state.  Many of these are in the Hudson Valley where Cider Week begins today. Cider Week VA also starts today highlight the Commonwealth's nine operating cideries. Cheers to that.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

TasteCamp: The Hudson River Region AVA

Benmarl Winery & Vineyard
Millbrook Vineyards
View from Glorie Farm Winery

Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery

Although my first posts concerning TasteCamp focused on cider and spirits, the Hudson Valley wine industry was the primary focal point of the trip. During the weekend, I probably tasted close to 75 New York wines, with about half  Hudson River Region (HRR) designated. Leading up to the weekend, I gained a better knowledge and appreciation of the Hudson Valley by participating in a #WineStudio series focusing on the region. For instance, the Hudson Valley is home to the oldest continually operating winery in the U.S. (Brotherhood America's Oldest Winery) as well as the oldest continually used vineyard, now part of  Benmarl Winery & Vineyard. Wine making did not return to the Hudson in a commercial sense, post prohibition, until the Farm Winery Bill was passed in 1976. The drivers of that project were John Dyson - the State Commissioner of Agriculture - and owner of Millbrook Vineyards & Winery and John Miller of Benmarl. By utilizing estate grown grapes (amended two years later to allow any NY grapes), New York wineries received lower taxes, the ability to sell directly to consumers, and to self-distribute. And as importantly, it encouraged the retention and growth of vineyards. Thus, the New York wine industry owes its current renaissance to two pioneers in the Hudson.

In most cold climate regions, French-Hybrids usually dominate and in the HRR, Seyval is a leading white grape. Before this weekend I think the only Seyval I tasted that left an impression was from Linden Vineyards. In most other cases they were just average nondescript wines. However, I tasted several tasty Hudson Valley Seyvals - starting with Clinton Vineyards - who not only, only produce wine from Seyval, but they also produce champagne methodoise versions. These were quite nice, citrus and effervescent. Hudson-Chatham Winery and Glorie Farm Winery both featured Seyval that were dry, light, fruit forward, with a lemon-citrus and acidic finish. And the Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery White Awosting is a very tasty blend of Vignoles and Seyval Blanc. Another benefit of these Seyval wines are their low price points, $15 on average.

But, let's talk Hudson River Region vinifera. Starting with whites, I tasted several nice Rieslings over the weekend, with most produced from fruit sourced from the Finger Lakes. The exception was Tousey Winery, where we were provided a vertical tasting of their 2011 to 2013 Estate Grown Hudson River Rieslings. These wines were fantastic, each different, but showcasing the stone fruits and acidity inherent and American Riesling. Owners Kimberly and Ben Peacock have an interesting story as well, agreeing to take over operations while visiting from Europe. It also helps that Peter Bell, of Fox Run Vineyards, is a consultant. Millbrook Vineyards & Winery also produces a HRR Riesling in their Dry Riesling Proprietor's Special Reserve -- another solid wine. Millbrook also produces a very respectable chardonnay, as well as one of my favorites of the weekend - the 2013 Proprietor’s Special Reserve Tocai Friulano. Simply delicious. And talking about trendsetters; Millbrook has been growing Tocai Friulano since 1985.

Moving to red wines, the Hudson River Region appears to be a bright sport for Cabernet Franc and Baco Noir. Once again Millbrook Vineyards & Winery provided our party with a solid offering in their Proprietor’s Special Reserve Cabernet Franc. This was followed by the Glorie Farm Winery estate Cabernet Franc - which quickly became a TasteCamp favorite. And count Tousey Winery as another winery producing a solid cab franc. While driving around the Marlboro area the day after TasteCamp, I stumbled upon newly opened Brunel and Rafael Winery. Check out their Hudson River Region Cabernet Franc. My favorite goes to Benmarl's 2012 Ridge Road Estate Cabernet Franc. This is the bomb. One of the best wines of the weekend.

Our host for TasteCamp was the proprietor of Hudson-Chatham Winery, Carlo Devito. Carlo planned the entire weekend, which included a lunch tasting of area wines and ciders at his winery - all this in the middle of harvest. While his winemaker Stephen Casscles & crew crushed grapes, Carlo also opened his entire portfolio for us to sample. And this included several Baco Noirs, Carlo's most famous wines. There are not many producers of this hybrid anymore, but Hudson-Chatham specializes in Baco Noir as we sampled four vineyard designate wines. The estate vineyard at Hudson-Chatham,  North Creek Vineyard, has four year old vines growing in Block 3 - hence the Block 3 North Creek Vineyard Baco Noir. The also produce theCasscles Middle Hope Baco Noir  from a vineyard Casscles planted while in high school. What foresight. My favorite two were from Mason Place Vineyard, the  Field Stone Baco - Old Stones & Old Vines - Mason Place Vineyard and the Old Vines Mason Place Vineyard. This last wine is outstanding, the grapes harvested from 60 year old vines.

There were also several other reds to praise, in particular, the Hudson-Chatham Winery Chelois, Clearview Vineyard Noiret, and Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery Reserve Gamay Noir. First, who in the U.S. even produces a Chelois outside of Hudson-Chatham. Second, its a killer wine.  The Clearview Noiret was easily the best I've ever tasted from this Cornell bred grape. And the Whitecliff Gamay Noir was simply spectacular.

There are many other wines I know I am omitting, but I'm trying to be brief. Tastecamp was a great education and experience. Looking forward to returning soon, hopefully a tour of the southern Shawangunk Wine Trail. Cheers.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

While in Hershey: Tröegs Brewery

Seems like we've been visiting Hershey, Pennsylvania quite often in the past year, and why not, with the zoo, chocolate factory, and amusement park. And Tröegs Brewery is always on the agenda. Hard to believe the brewery is almost 20 years old; first operating in Harrisburg and moving to the new location in the fall of 2011. Not only does the Hershey plant host the brewing and bottling operations, but it also includes a large taproom-snack bar; gift shop, and a self-guided tour area. The latter works for families with kids since visitors must be 21 for the guided tours. My son had a blast watching the bottling of Mad Elf Ale, running back and forth following a particular bottle of beer as it was cleaned, filled, capped, labelled, and boxed. And he sat quietly watching the quality control mechanism reject bottles after capping. 

 The taproom provides an opportunity to taste or consume any variety of available beers. But, it's the food menu that sets it apart - talking gourmet food. There's cheeses, venison, seared foie gras, beef marrow bones, crispy pork belly, "poutine" hand-cut fries in turkey neck gravy, charcuterie house-cured meats, duck confit, beef short rib pot roast. You get the picture. And the grilled cheese and tröegswurst were delicious. As for the beer, we took the low alcohol approach with their everyday Dreamweaver Wheat and Sunshine Pils. Both solid representations of their styles.

And when ready to leave, the gift shop offers Tröegs beer for the road as well as company swag. Stock up - particularly with my favorite: Troegenator Double Bock. Cheers.

Monday, October 27, 2014

W&OD Bike Trail: Old Ox Brewery

Yesterday I had a free afternoon so I battled major headwinds to visit Old Ox Brewery in Ashburn, Virginia. It had been since my last visit and the brewery has settled in nicely. With the new sign on the bike path there's really no need to depend on theCompass and there was constant traffic from the W&OD path to the brewery. Many of these riders camped in the brewing area in front of the projection screen -- watching football; I think I need to return for a Redskins game. There was also a larger selection of beer with the Golden Ox Belgium Golden Ale (6.5% abv) and Alpha Ox Session IPA (4.5% abv) now accompanied with the Black Ox Rye Porter (6.0% abv), The Oxorcist Pumpkin Brown Ale (6.0% abv), and the Saison d'Ox French Farmhouse Ale (5.7% abv). This farmhouse ale is fantastic, it's refreshing after a bike ride with orange flavors and subtle spices on the tail. Nicely done. I also enjoyed the rye porter; there was symmetry between the rye spice and chocolate notes with a slightly hoppy finish. Looking forward to a brewery - brewery ride when Caboose Brewing Company opens later this year. Cheers and safe riding.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

#TasteCamp Explores #HudsonValley #Cider

From numerous trips to Greenwood Lake, I've become very familiar with two Hudson Valley cider makers, Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery & Applewood Winery. The former produces apple and pear ciders under the Doc’s Draft Ciders brand, while the latter recently introduced their Naked Flock ciders which replaced their Apple Dave's Stone Fence Cider. TasteCamp presented a few opportunities to expand my Hudson Valley cider experience -- starting with a trade tasting at Robibero Family Vineyards.

Among the various wineries at Robibero, Bad Seed Cider Company was pouring their inaugural release: Dry Hard Cider (6.3% abv, $12). The ciderie is co-owned by Devin Britton and Albert Wilklow, a 6th generation apple farmer. Devon is the cider maker - having a history of fermenting anything that would make a tasty beverage. Their Dry Hard Cider was clean, tart, and refreshing and hearing that they produced other styles incited me to visit on Sunday. The taproom was only a week old, yet there was already a decent crowd on my arrival. Devin was pouring four Bad Seed ciders as well as guest ciders from other Hudson Valley producers. I stuck with a sampler of his Dry, Cherried Away, Mapled Monk, and Blueberry. The Cherried Away was easily my favorite, basically the Dry fermented with tart sour cherries. This is one tasty cider. It took a few sips to start to appreciate the Mapled Monk, which is their Belgian Abbey augmented with a touch of maple syrup. There's a bit of funk from being unfiltered and inoculation with Belgian abbey beer yeast. Very interesting.  Expect a lot more of these artisan ciders - I hear there's a bourbon-maple combo on the horizon.

During day 2, our host, Carlo Devito, sponsored another Hudson Valley tasting at his Hudson-Chatham Winery. Among the participants were several cideries including the above mentioned Doc's Draft and Naked Flock. Our host poured an almost cider - the Old Orchard Sparkling Apple Wine which resembled a sparkling cider (clean, effervescent, with a nice tart finish), but it came in at 10.7% abv - too high to be labeled a cider.

Another participant was Orchard Hill Cider Mill, from New Hampton and using fruit from Soons Orchard. They produce still and sparkling cider, the latter using méthode champenoise, whereas  both styles are bottle fermented and unfiltered. Their traditional Red and Gold labels (still vs sparkling) are clean and dry with the Red Label (7.25% abv, $10) having some toasted apple elements. The Gold Label (8% abv, $18) is slightly sweeter and lighter. Orchard Hill also introduced us to their Ten66 brand - the Jerry Lee Lewis of ciders - the killer. Named for the year of the Normandy invasion of Britain and inspired by that region's Pommeau de Normandi, both the Red and Gold labels are delicious. The Red Label (20% abv, $30 375 ml) is mixed with apple brandy distilled from Soons Orchard apples  and aged in French oak wine barrels. The aged brandy is then blended with fresh unfermented Soons' cider and returned to the barrel for extra aging. The result is a tart apple pie flavor with vanilla and nutmeg on the tail. The Ten66 Golden Barrel (20% abv, $30 375 ml) is even better, brandy distilled in 2005 combined with fresh juice and barreled in 2009 - a single barrel mistelle. Not a cider, but one of the best ciderie beverages on the market.

One of the most interesting collection of ciders the entire weekend was poured by Aaron Burr Cidery. These were apple and pear ciders from uncultivated fruit - foraged from wild or abandoned orchards in the Catskills. The apples and pears are small and mangled - providing more skin contact in relation to juice. The Homestead Ciders are fermented using native yeast and unfiltered to create a cider style that was consumed when the country was founded. Obviously these are very small productions, maybe 100 cases, and extremely unique and tasty. Aaron Burr also produces an Appinette (8.4% abv) cider using 30% Finger Lakes Traminette grapes and 70% Orange County (NY) apples. It comes off dry, effervescent, with a tart - slightly bitter finish. Cheers for pulling these off; Aaron Burr ciders are highly recommended.

There are more cideries in the Hudson Valley waiting for my next trip. Hope to visit or taste Kettleborough Cider House, Annadale Cidery, Slyboro Cider House, and Breezy Hill Orchard & Cider Mill soon. Cheers.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Discovering #HudsonValley Spirits During #TasteCamp: Part II

In Part I - Hillrock Estate Distillery of my TasteCamp series, I described the field to glass philosophy of Hillrock Estate Distillery and expressed surprise at the breadth of Hudson Valley distilleries. In historical terms, I shouldn't have been. In the early 1800's, New York, with major help from the Hudson Valley region, produced over half of this country's barley and rye. And with these grains, distilleries followed. In fact, approximately 1,200 farm distilleries were operating in the Empire state when Prohibition destroyed the industry.  In recent years, the distillation industry in New York has slowly materialized, thanks in large part by entrepreneurs in the Hudson Valley.

Ralph Erenzo is the face of the spirits industry in New York, both as co-owner of Tuthilltown Spirits and the driving force behind the four year effort to pass the Farm Distillery License Act. According to, Erenzo "was researching the possibility of booze-making and discovered a little-known 2000 law on the books that allowed locavore micro-distilling at a greatly reduced licensing rate. The state had slashed the $65,000 distilling permit to just $1,500 — so long as the producer was a little guy, making less than 35,000 gallons a year. "  When Tuthilltown was founded in 2003, it was the only farm distillery in the state; today, thanks to the Farm Distillery License Act, there are over 40. As long as distilleries use NY grain or fruit, they can self-distribute - ignoring wholesalers when suitable - and sell directly from the tasting room.  

I visited Tuthilltown and learned that their award winning bourbons were not the first products Brian Lee (Erenz's founding partner, distiller, and principle investor) produced. It was actually the Indigenous Empire State Wheat Vodka (80 proof / 40% abv, $27) and Indigenous Fresh Pressed Apple Vodka (80 proof / 40% abv, $37). Both very smooth and also used as the base for the Half Moon Orchard Gin (92 proof / 41% abv, $37). In addition, the distillery produces a Hudson Valley favorite, cassis, with their Cassis Liqueur (44 proof / 22% abv, $24) -"created by hand-harvesting organically grown local fruit and macerating it with raw cane sugar in a neutral spirit for 4 months in Tuthilltown Whiskey-cured barrels." The result is a tart and tannic port styled liqueur. Quite tasty. And then there's the world class whiskeys: from the Hudson New York Corn Whiskey (92 proof / 41% abv, $41) to the Hudson Single Malt Whiskey (92 proof / 41% abv, $41 375ml), Hudson Manhattan Rye (92 proof / 41% abv, $41 375ml), and Hudson Four Grain bourbon whiskey (92 proof / 41% abv, $41 375ml). The Hudson Maple Rye Whiskey (92 proof / 41% abv, $41 375ml) is an interesting twist - aging the base of the Manhattan Rye in used maple syrup barrels. The whiskey retains a fair bit of rye character with subtle maple notes.  Like Hillrock Estate, this whiskey does not come cheap; but boy are they oh so good. 

The growth in the Hudson Valley distillery industry due to the Farm Distillery License Act led our TasteCamp party to Hillrock Estate and the Saturday morning spirits tasting.  A dozen distillers participated in this event - which organizer Carlo Devito billed as the largest single tasting of Hudson Valley spirits in modern times. And appropriately, Tuthilltown participating pouring their Indigenous brand, the Half Moon Orchard Gin, and Cassis Liqueur.  I started the tasting with Millbrook Distillery, founded by Paul Coughlin and Gerald Valenti in Dutchess County. Their Dutchess Private Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey (90 proof / 45% abv, $37) is made from local corn and rye (25%) with natural spring water from Rolling Hills Farm.  Plenty of caramel to finish off this very drinkable bourbon. 

Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery table was vacant, so I parked in front in order to sample their Black Dirt Distillery series - named after the fertile soil in Orange County. The Black Dirt Bourbon (90 proof / 45% abv, $45) produced from 80% corn, 12% barley, and 8% rye and aged a minimum of three years in new American Oak. The result is a clean, slightly honey sweet whiskey with the rye coming through in the tail. I'm a lover of apple jack and was excited with the Black Dirt Apple Jack (100 proof / 50% abv, $45) made from Jonagold apples and aged in charred new American oak. This starts with honey and vanilla which then yields to the apple profile, finishing with pie spices. Nicely done. The final offering was the Warwick Gin (80 proof / 40% abv, $27) and uses classic botanicals such as juniper, coriander, angelica root, and anise. It also includes lemon and lime peels which gives it a citrusy profile.

Nearby, Dutch's Spirits had the most interesting spirit, Sugar Wash Moonshine (80 proof / 40% abv, $28), a 100% cane neutral spirit produced in small batches from pure Demerara sugar. Very clean with hopscotch notes. Sugar Wash is a traditional moonshine recipe when corn is scarce and is a perfect fit for this distillery's past. There's too much to convey for the full story, but click here to read it's connections to mobster Dutch Schultz and his clandestine underground distillery. Co-founder Ariel Schlein was also pouring the distillery's Peach Brandy (80 proof / 40% abv, $42) - subtle peach and very smooth. They also concocted a cocktail of the Moonshine, hard cider, and house made bitters - delicious.

The newest player in the Hudson Valley spirits is Denning's Point Distillery, who just celebrated their Grand Opening September 20th. They were pouring two products, the VisKill Vodka and Beacon Whiskey. The vodka is distilled from a mash of Finger Lakes winter wheat and is quite smooth. The Beacan Whiskey is light, smooth, with hints of caramel.

I wish I had more time to spend with Angus MacDonald, Master Distiller of Coppersea Distilling.Like Hillrock Estate Distillery, Coppersea floor malts and mills their grain - for the later sourced from various Hudson Valley farms. However, I was given the two minute warning to hurry up so savored their Pear and Peach Eau De Vie as well as the Coppersea Green Malt Rye (90 proof / 45% abv) - a 100% malted rye whisky made from unkilned malt (unroasted malt). Very limited quantities for this herbal treat.

While walking out I noticed that Hudson Valley Distillers, LLC had arrived and were sampling more Apple Jack. The bus could wait a little longer, right? This veteran owned distillery is owned and operated by Thomas Yozzo and Chris Moyer, who utilize the fruit from Moyer's Spirits Grove Farm orchard. They also built greenhouses to grow botanicals for their future Tom’s Old Tom gin. I quickly sampled the Adirondack Applejack ($25 350ml) and the Hardscrapple Applejack ($25 350ml). The former was aged in white oak barrels like an whiskey while the later is produced to align more with Scotch. The latter also honors Chancellor Robert Livingston, entrepreneur,  contributor to the  Declaration of Independence, and former owner of the land that now includes Spirits Grove Farm. That's the beauty of the burgeoning Hudson Valley distilling industry. Young, but loads of history in every bottle. And the Hardscrapple is more like a whiskey than applejack - toasted nuts, vanilla, and caramel. Very nice.

Unfortunately the bus spirited us off to our next destination and I failed to sample from Harvest Spirits Farm Distillery and Catskill Distilling Company . Next trip for sure. Cheers to Hudson Valley Distillers.