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.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Discovering #HudsonValley Spirits During #TasteCamp: Part I - Hillrock Estate Distillery

Before my TasteCamp trip to the Hudson Valley, I was vaguely familiar with a few area distilleries: Tuthilltown bourbon,  Demarest Hill Winery grappa, and Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery. But that was the extent of my experience  - until the TasteCamp spirits tasting at Hillrock Estate Distillery - which, in the words of Through the Bunghole, was EPIC. Not only did we learn about the premiere "field-to-glass" distillery that hosted the event, but a dozen other Hudson valley distilleries sent representatives to showcase their products - exhibiting a fascinating range of spirits made from locally grown grain or fruit.

Hillrock Estate is the first of its kind in the United States (post-prohibition, that is): a field-to-glass distillery. In other words, the estate grows rye and barley, malts the grain on site (using imported peat), and distills the fermenting mash into whiskey. Thus total control over all aspects of production.  Our tour started in the courtyard framed partially by two restored buildings, one a 1806 Georgian house built by a successful grain merchant and Revolutionary War Captain.

In the background were fields of organically grown heirloom rye. Once harvested, the grain from each plot is floor malted - a labor intensive process that requires the grain to be raked every 6-8 hours over the thee day germination process. The raking releases heat and carbon dioxide while spreading moisture - promoting consistent germination. When the required amount of starch has been produced, the grain is air dried, and de-culmed to remove the rootlets. At Hillrock Estate, the grain is most likely roasted using imported Scottish peat to add a degree of smokiness to the finished product.

Proprietor Jeff Baker was able to acquire the services of Master Distiller Dave Pickerell  (of Maker's Mark fame) to manage the estate's operations. Distiller Tim Welly, former cellar master at Millbrook Winery,  lead our group through the distillation process as we sampled several bins of sour mash - noticing the changing sweetness-sourness ratio of the fermenting mash. We also tasting a recently distilled heart - straight from the 250-gallon custom copper-pot still - very smooth and sweet.

Pickerell then lead us through a tasting of three Hillrock Estate whiskeys, starting with the world's first Solera Aged Bourbon. The process takes six years so the initial bourbon is mature "seed" bourbon sourced by Pickerell. Like any bourbon, this whiskey was aged in new oak barrels and then a percentage is transferred to small oak barrels containing Hillrock Estate whiskey. The final step is finishing a percentage of the small oak whiskey in 20 year old Olorosa Sherry casks.  No barrel is fully emptied in the Solera process so the whiskey matures with increased complexity. Over time, the estate bourbon will eventually replace the seed bourbon.  The Solera Aged Bourbon (46.3% ABV / 92.6 Proof, $80-$90) showcases some spicy rye flavors, mingling with caramel and cinnamon, and finishes with figs and nuts.
The next two whiskeys were pure estate spirits, starting with the Hillrock Estate Single Malt Whiskey (48.2% ABV / 96.4 Proof, $105-$120), produced in the lighter Speyside style. The barley was harvested from the estate with very little peat used during roasting. The spirit was then aged two years, resulting in a smooth, lighter whiskey but full of sweet spices - cinnamon and clove particularly. The final whiskey was the Hillrock Estate Double Cask Rye (45% ABV / 90 Proof, $80-$95) - 100% rye straight from the estate's 250 acre rye plantings. The spirit is first aged in new oak with a #3 charcoal and then finished in new oak with a #4 charcoal - hence the Double Cask. This is a bold and spicy whiskey, full of caramel and sweet raisins to balance the rye. I believe I found a favorite. Public tastings are also available at the distillery - check theCompass Winery Brewery Distiller Locator app for directions. Cheers to Jeff Baker and his team at Hillrock Estate.  Next up, the best of Hudson Valley spirits.