2007 was a Milestone year in New York. That was the year that the New York State Farm distillery law was passed. Prior to this it took a substantial amount of money to open up a distillery in New York State. However, the New York Farm Distillery law, enabled small distilleries to open up all across New York State for the first time since Prohibition.
The Hudson Valley was one of the very first communities to benefit from this. Ralph Erenzo co-founded Tuthilltown Distillery in Gardiner NY, near New Paltz and at the same time Brian MacKenzie founded Finger Lakes Distilling and Long Island Spirits opened in the North Fork. The party had started!
New York State now ranks second among states with the most distilleries. New York has well over 120 distilleries and counting. California and Washington State also benefit from similar legislation.
Here in the Hudson Valley we have a very vibrant distillery scene from Westchester County, Warwick, New Paltz and up to Albany. We are making everything from vodka, gin, whiskey and liqueurs made from local ingredients. We also make rum and other spirits from non-local ingredients. Some of these items are not being sampled or for sale in tasting rooms since they don't qualify as made with local ingredients.
As far as the local NY ingredients used there are several options for the base alcohol. Grain will make vodka, gin and whiskey. Apples will make vodka, gin, applejacks and brandies. Harvest Spirits pioneered this maket early on in 2008. Corn will produce vodka, gin and be the major part of Bourbon. Grapes will make brandy. Now grapes are used more for wine. But in the beginning of distilling history in the US, grapes were planted before grains for spirits. And we even have some distilleries doing their own malting like Hillrock in Ancram. We'd be happy to give you a whiskey tour - leave the driving to us!
The Hudson Valley even has its own whiskey trail. With so many options it is broken down by regions, Northern Hudson Valley, western Hudson Valley in Catskills, Central Hudson Valley and Southern Hudson Valley.
With so many options it's hard to say what is the best Hudson Valley distillery. It's really up to you. First you need to decide what type of spirits you like. You will experience a vast variety of spirits and distillery types. For more of the barn feel we like Coppersea Distilling at the bass of the Mohonk Preserve. For the most variety of spirits head to Stout Ridge in Marlboro. There are literally 45 different spirits at any give time with new ones always being produced. Black Dirt in Orange County has a great social scene. For you apple based spirits visit Harvest Spirits which makes Core Vodka.
You will also find breweries and wineries that are distilling now as well under one roof. We like Arrowood Farm for this. As I write this their first batch of Bourbon is still barrel aging. I like their vodka and gin so much that I use it at my restaurant, Aroma Thyme Bistro in Ellenville.
With a very active distilling community it is possible to mix a distillery into your wine or beer outing. And if you're all about the spirits then you've got just as many options as wineries. Wherever you go make sure you check their website first for hours and policies, especially when it comes to groups.