There was no how-to-distill manual for Ralph Erenzo when he started what would become Tuthilltown Spirits in 2006. There was so little published about microdistilling at the time that he spent two and a half years with his business partner Brian Lee, experimenting with a furnace (purchased on e-Bay) and a German pot-still (no instructions included). They used apple scraps from a nearby apple-slicing plant in the Hudson Valley to produce their first batches of vodka.
It was actually pretty sweet kismet that in 2002, New York had passed a law encouraging spirit makers to set up micro-distilling operations using locally farmed products. They could now purchase a license for only $1,450 instead of the previous, whoppin' $50,000. So Erenzo converted a granary in Gardiner, New York, which adjoins a historic gristmill (dating back to 1788!) into the state's first distillery since Prohibition.
After the early vodka experimentation, they made their now biggest seller (40% of sales), the Baby Bourbon made from 100% New York corn. The "baby" refers to the smaller, three-gallon American oak barrels they use to increase the exposure to the charred white oak. It's in there for just four short months, whereas a more "adult"-sized (like say, ten-gallon) barrel could take over a year to express the same mildly sweet, vanilla-hinting, smooth flavors.
We recently took a tour of the Tuthilltown distillery, which you can too; they offer them on Saturdays and Sundays at noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. You clearly can't leave without popping into the tasting room for a flight of whiskeys, which are bottled in their short, pudgy, apothecary-reminiscent 375-milliliter bottles. The tasting room is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays) and from noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays.
Stay tuned for some new Tuthilltown products ahead: gin and vodka made with New York state wheat and a cassis.