If you’re anything like the Accidental Locavore, you’ve probably chatted with your best friend about any number of potential business ventures and never pulled the trigger, figuring the friendship was more valuable than the business idea. This isn’t the case with Hudson Valley Distillers, a new venture founded by two best friends who literally decided to buy the farm.
On the farm, now named Spirit Grove Farm, Chris and Tom are making small batch, artisanal applejacks and an apple-based vodka. Even more important than the booze, these two–friends since college, are having a great time! People always talk about doing something you love, and if what I saw the other day is any example, this pair is doing exactly that!
They’ve converted a 150 year old barn into the distillery and tasting bar. Something you probably don’t know about the Accidental Locavore is that I’m a sucker for gleaming pieces of machinery, and Hudson Valley Distillers have some beauties! Did you know that all stills need to have names? Onata (meaning “spirit of field and grain”) has a main piece that “cooks” the fermented apple cider, which gets filtered into the side pieces, condensing it, and the result, an extremely potent vodka or applejack, goes into a tank. From there it’s diluted (all alcohol is, otherwise you’d be drinking the liquor equivalent of pure heroin), the vodka gets bottled and the applejacks are put into small oak barrels to age.
Like a lot of things at HVD, the barrels have their own story. Currently, they’re using two types of oak barrels, both from the Midwest, but Chris and Tom are working with a cooper in upstate New York to produce the first New York oak barrels since the 1900’s. It’s part of their mission (and a NYS directive) to source at least 75% from New York State, making this a very locavore distillery.
In keeping with the local edict, Chris is experimenting with growing his own sugar cane, and citrus trees, hoping to start producing their own rum along with the gin that is already in the works. Also on the drawing board are bourbon and whisky, using corn, rye and barley grown just down the road.
Right now there’s a tasting bar (open weekends), where you can sample the two applejacks and the vodka. If you like your vodka straight-up, this is the vodka for you. Smooth with a slight apple nose, this is a perfect sipping vodka, with none of the nasty alcohol taste or smell of lesser vodkas. It would probably make a formidable martini, too.
Of the two applejacks, my favorite was the Hardscrabble. It had a lovely butterscotch and apple nose, and while you could smell the oak from the barrels, it wasn’t overwhelming (like some California chardonnays). The taste was lovely, a cross between a good bourbon or scotch, but again, without any overpowering alcohol.
If all this is tempting to you (I bought the last bottle of Hardscrabble), hurry out to a local (currently only New York State) liquor store or restaurant. Chris and Tom are in the enviable spot of being sold-out of most everything right now. But not to worry, there are barrels aging now, getting ready for the holidays. Plans are in the works for a small café/tasting room, serving local cheeses and charcuterie along with all the Hudson Valley Distillers products, straight-up or in cocktails. Enjoy!