Whiskey doesn't grow on trees, but it does begin in the soil as rye and barley. And what more pleasant reminder of a spirit's origins than seeing fields of grain alongside a pot still? That's the idea behind the new Hillrock Estate Distillery in New York's Hudson Valley.
Founder Jeff Baker dreamed of establishing a distillery that was a bit more like a small-production winery—a place where the spirit begins in the field and ends in the glass, all without leaving the complex.
With the help of Master Distiller Dave Pickerell (formerly of WhistlePig Whiskey, and before that, Maker's Mark) and distiller Tim Welly, Baker has indeed created such a place. Whiskey production began in late 2011, so Hillrock is now ready to begin selling bottles and to open its doors to tours and tastings.
We visited recently and got a chance to check out the on-site malt house, which they believe is the first since before Prohibition, complete with a cement floor for germination and a kiln for drying and smoking the barley.
Even more interesting is Hillrock's solera—a bourbon pyramid meant for gradually blending aged whiskies, similar to the way that sherry is aged. The Hillrock Solera started with 40 barrels of mature seed bourbon (they say it's similar in character to the bourbon Hillrock is making on the estate.) The estate bourbon was aged in small barrels in the "nursery" and then added to the solera. The distillers remove the married whiskey from the lower barrels to finish in 20 year old Oloroso sherry casks (for about 36 days) before bottling. Those lower barrels are never fully depleted—they're topped up with blended whiskey from the next oldest barrel. We didn't get a chance to snag a snapshot of the solera (there's still some reorganizing of supplies and tools that's necessary before it's safe to visit) but visitors will eventually be able to check it out.
Highlights of the distillery tour at Hillrock include a beautiful custom copper still, and two Australian sheepdog mascots named Storm and Shadow. Can't make it up to the Hudson Valley? Come along on our virtual tour »