Love your spirits? There’s never been a better time to visit New York State. A recent boom in boutique distilleries has seen a range of exciting new products emerge, from rye whiskey to classic unaged corn whiskey (the latter of which you might know better as moonshine, but leave any associations with bathtub distilling behind).
For a taste of New York’s spirituous terroir, here are eight of our favourite distilleries to check out on your next trip.
Finger Lakes Distilling
Finger Lakes Distilling is located smack in the middle of New York’s own wine country. Here, on Seneca Lake, access to nearby farms and wineries keeps the distillery well stocked. Creating its spirits using old-fashioned copper stills, Finger Lakes’s spirits are made with local ingredients such as barley, rye, wheat, spelt, corn, grapes, apples, cherries, berries and maple syrup. Products include two unaged whiskies — White Pike Whiskey, made from corn, spelt and malted wheat, and Glen Thunder, named for nearby Watkins Glen raceway — as well as a range of aged whiskies, gins, vodkas, brandies, and beyond.
Formerly a dairy farm, this third-generation family farm in Cape Vincent in the Thousand Islands region was one of the first micro-distilleries in northern New York State. Using locally grown grains and fruits, Clayton Distillery produces such delights as mixed berry vodka, bourbon, maple whiskey, and three delicious flavours of moonshine (lemonade, cherry, and apple pie).
Adirondack Distilling Company
Situated in a historic building in Utica, Adirondack Distilling Company produces its award-winning spirits using New York State corn and water from the Adirondack Mountains. The distillery’s 601 Bourbon is described as having notes of vanilla, raisin and a peppery finish — “it’s whiskey smooth, but without the burn.” Adirondack’s 1,000 Stills White Whiskey, which has won several awards, is also worth trying — and explicitly evokes the area’s history of renegade distilling during Prohibition.
Myer Farm Distillers
Proudly touting its “field to flask” approach, Myer Farm Distillers makes spirits from grains grown on its own Myer Farm. Located near the Cayuga Wine Trail, the distillery is housed in a building designed to evoke Scotland’s famous whisky producers. Myer Farm uses a 650-litre copper pot still and organic grain to produce its White Dog Corn Whiskey (86.6 proof, tasting of “hot buttered popcorn, cornbread, and a hint of vanilla”) and White Dog Wheat Spirits (88.4 proof, with a taste of “cocoa, caramel, and a hint of apricot”).
Catskill Distilling Company
With names like Most Righteous Bourbon and the award-winning Defiant Rye, Catskill Distilling Company handcrafts their fine spirits using water from the Catskill Mountains, as well as New York State-grown grain and fruits. You can sip the distillery’s other characterful spirits, like Fearless Wheat Whiskey or Wicked White Whiskey, in its art deco bar (which was salvaged from the 1939 World’s Fair). The next-door Dancing Cat Saloon also offers the distillery’s craft products and fine dining, as well as some heritage: both the saloon and distillery are located just across the street from the site of the historic Woodstock Music Festival.
Tuthilltown was the first New York State distillery to set up shop following Prohibition’s ravages. Suitably situated in a historic mill in the Hudson Valley, Tuthilltown Sprits handcrafts its products, like Baby Bourbon, Manhattan Rye and New York Corn Whiskey, from raw grain and fruit. You might also want to check out unique products like the Half Moon Orchard Gin, distilled from apples and wheat, as well as liqueurs like their cassis, cacao, and triple sec varieties.
Hillrock Estate Distillery
Hillrock Estate Distillery is housed in a 200-year-old Georgian residence originally built by a grain merchant and Revolutionary War captain. If that doesn’t impress you, know that Hillrock possesses heirloom grains, expansive views of the Berkshire Mountains and barley fields in the Hudson Valley Highlands. The distillery’s whiskeys have all the flavour and nuances of the surrounding land. Look for Hillrock’s Solera Aged Bourbon — bourbon aged by a process using barrels that are never fully emptied (as with Spanish sherry), making for a full-bodied bourbon with layers of complexity.
Set in the heart of the historic village of Cooperstown, (home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame), Cooperstown Distillery is a farm distillery and member of the Cooperstown Beverage Trail. As its hometown suggests, look for products with a baseball swing, including Beanball Bourbon – a six-year barrel-aged, charcoal-filtered spirit. It’s a whopping 90 proof: ideal for a product named after a pitch thrown purposefully at a batter’s head.
Written by M.J. Kravec
Image credits: Vintage whiskey barrels © iStock: MartinM303, Finger Lakes Distilling building © Finger Lakes Distilling, Finger Lakes products © Finger Lakes Distilling, Tuthilltown Spirits © Tuthilltown Spirits