Friday, December 29, 2023

Exploring Exotic Spirits at Stoutridge Distillery & Winery

It looks like we will finish 2023 visiting just over 180 craft beverage establishments. A recent sampling of the unique portfolio at Stoutridge Distillery & Winery was one of the highlights of the year. The establishment was founded in 2006 by Stephen Osborn and Kimberly Wagner who converted a historic farm they had purchased five years earlier to a licensed winery. The farmhouse dates back to the mid-1800s and was originally built by Italian immigrants. In 1902, Vincenzo Marino purchased the property and produced wine commercially until his death in March 1919. But, because of Prohibition and neglect, the farmhouse and vineyards were in ruins by the turn of the century. 

The winery started producing natural (without sulfates or other chemicals) wine using locally grown fruit and using a state-of-the-art, gravity-flow system. In 2017, they expanded into distilling small-batch spirits, and not only distilling, but malting and kilning the grain. In fact, "Stoutridge is one of eight distilleries in America to do its own malting and the ONLY Distillery in the U.S. with a traditional Scottish style kilning floor."

During our visit I was tempted to start with their wine particularly since they source interested native and hybrid grapes such as Frontenac, Noiret, DeChaunac, Seyval, and Niagra, as well as a N.Y. Riesling. But then I saw their spirits portfolio of approximately 75 expressions comprised of Rye Whiskey, Malt Whiskey, Corn Whiskey, Bottled-In-Bond Whiskeys, Brandy, Whiskey-Brandy blends, Grappa, Eau de Vie, Vodka, Gin, Fernet & other bitters, Absinthe, Mastic, and Liqueurs.  Where to start? We decided to skip the whisky, vodka, and gin in order to plow into the exotic. 

Vincent Grappa: A traditionally made grappa, distilled from the skins of Hudson Valley grapes fermented for two months. This method produces incredible aromatic intensity (think of perfume) from both the concentrated natural oils of the grape skins and the myriad fermentation flavors. Named after Vincente Morano who made wine on our site from 1901 to 1919.  We purchased a bottle of this spirit because I felt out of all the expressions we tried, it seemed to hold a sense of place combining the wine and distillery operations. It's also a very agreeable grappa with a full mouthfeel and textured finish. 

Slivovitz: 100 proof plum brandy from locally harvested fruit. We use five kinds of plums in making this spirit to maximize it’s complexity. Slow distilled at high proof captures the complexity but yields a clean spirit that’s very smooth even over-proofed.  With an affinity for Eastern European Palinka, Rakija, and Slivovitz we were instantly attracted to this spirit and the plum character starts immediately and the nose and continues until the long, slightly rugged finish. 

Kirschwasser: 100 proof cherry brandy (kirsch) from locally harvested fruit. We use four kinds of cherries, harvested at varying levels of ripeness in making this spirit to maximize it’s complexity. Slow distilled at high proof captures the complexity but yields a clean spirit that’s very smooth even over-proofed. Delightful. The cherries hold up to the alcohol very easily.

The Damascene: We've added the perfect nuances of cardamom, angelica and white sage to our pot distiller locally grown field blend plum brandy. With a touch of sugar the result is a simply spectacular style of Slivovitz. A very interesting take on Slivovitz and very close to a Croatian Travarica.  With a larger budget I think I would have returned home with a bottle. 

Fernet: Our Fernet is a mint bittersweet liqueur in the Italian style. Developed to express our love of wintergreen and spearmint, but also to adhere to classic proportions of an amaro. This Fernet is a great replacement for bitters in any cocktail recipe. We offer this at 92 proof in order to give the spirit an elegance that is lost at lower proofs. I was excited to try this bitter  and I could envision slowly sipping and not just using in a cocktail. Love the mint profile. 

Quartarium Seed: Our venture into Absinthe production was the inspirational seed of so many flavor projects! Here we celebrate our success in competitions with a Swiss style 'Verte' made from 100% grape spirits in a wooden pot still of our design. This one has more hyssop flower and less artemis pontica.  This really incentivizes an exploration into Absinthe particularly through the several expressions available at Stoutridge. Just a few drops of water and the flavors pop. 

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