If you sat down to write a script about the creation of a craft distillery, you’d come up with something very close to Tuthilltown and Hudson Whiskey.
Craft distillers today are nearly as ubiquitous as smart phones. It was a very different story in 2001, when Ralph Erenzo and Brian Lee purchased the historic Tuthilltown Gristmill in Gardiner, New York. The mill had been converting grain to flour for more than two centuries, but no one had thought of making it into a distillery. Although there were more than 1,000 farm distillers in the state making their own booze from local ingredients prior to Prohibition, the practice was unknown more than 80 years after Repeal.
Erenzo and Lee are very much the odd couple. Prior to Tuthilltown, Lee had specialized in building technical systems for broadcast television. He supervises the fermentation and distillation of the Tuthilltown spirits. Erenzo spent 25 years as a rock climber (in fact, the original business plan was to establish a rock-climbing ranch rather than a distillery, an idea that fortunately never materialized). Together, they built one of the trendsetters of the craft distilling movement. Tuthilltown today specializes in producing vodka, gin and liqueurs from locally sourced materials, while Hudson, their whiskey line, has won virtually every available award and become the success story of that movement.
The world of craft distilling is a tightly knit circle of entrepreneurs, and eyebrows were raised in 2010 when the Hudson line was acquired by William Grant and Sons. Grant is a major player in the spirits industry, encompassing brands such as Glenfiddich, The Balvenie, Drambuie and Hendrick’s Gin. The integration of Hudson went better than anyone could have expected: Erenzo and Lee carried on as before, with the additional resources of a multi-national company at their disposal. Grant purchased the Tuthilltown brand and distillery earlier this year, along with the adjacent visitor’s center and Mill House Restaurant.
The Hudson Baby Bourbon is composed of 90% corn and 10% malted barley, and bottled at 92 proof/46% ABV. The fragrant, smoky nose is infused with whiffs of white pepper and butterscotch. It is high-toned and floral on entry, nicely compact on the palate, with soft flavors of toffee and vanilla. The texture is unctuous, mouth-coating and slightly oily. With the addition of a few drops of water, it becomes cleaner, leaner and easier to drink neat.
The outstanding Manhattan Rye (100% rye, also 92 proof/46% ABV) has an atypical nose of tangerine peel, tropical fruit and anise. There’s an explosion of fruit in the mouth—interlocking flavors of melon, guava and hints of pineapple—replaced in the mid palate by cinnamon and pepper. A sweet core of ripe fruit reverberates on the long finish. This is an unusual and powerful rye: complex, intriguing, and worth seeking out.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is now available from Black Opal Books. For more information, go to amazon.com.