William M. Dowd photos• First of two parts
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY -- The outdoor setting was enhanced by lights twinkling on the bare branches of a tree, crisply-painted white framing around windows on green clapboard storefronts, and the French doors on other facades were snugly closed against the winter air.
The catch was, this was indoors, in a meeting room at Longfellows, a popular rustic restaurant/inn on Route 9 east of the iconic Saratoga Race Course.
The Tuesday afternoon occasion was a seminar and tasting, an event that dealt with anything but facades and misdirection. The subject: craft-distilled New York State spirits.
It's a fledgling industry in the Empire State, yet it already is growing by leaps and bounds.
Some New York State wineries are spinning off their own distilleries. Other distilleries are standalone operations. The licensed distilleries are scattered across the state, but they may be popping up in clumps if what is going on in Brookly is any indicator. In that borough, four licensees are in the process of developing distilleries.
Last year, the fact that there were a dozen or more licensees led to creation of the New York Craft Distillers Guild, formed to help lobby the state as needed on behalf of a group rather than having individual distillers troop in one at a time to try getting attention.
The New York Farm Bureau, which works to support family farms and related small busineses, has been supportive of the move. And, the first meeting of the new Guild was organized by The Hudson Valley Agri-Business Development Corporation.
“We want to make the firm statement that spirits production in New York is an agricultural undertaking,” Todd Erling, executive director of HVADC, said at the time. “Distillers use agricultural products, and craft distilleries have the potential to create new markets for New York-grown fruits and grain while also creating a new tax source for the state.”
New York now has the highest concentration of distilleries of any state east of the Mississippi, according to the Guild.
In recognition of this, the New York Wine & Culinary Center, headquartered in Canandaigua, has undertaken a program of spirits tastings as part of the "Sample New York" project to push the state's food and beverage products.
The first was held here for the trade and media, with tasting flights covering unaged spirits, aged spirits and cordials. Future sessions will be held in New York, Buffalo, Rochester and Canandaigua.
I can say unequivocally that of the 15 products I tasted, I would not be reluctant to try any of them again. As a veteran of hundreds of such events and dozens of national and international tasting competitions, I've never had that experience before.
Even though even the most experienced New York craft distillers are relative rookies in the field, the quality level of their wares as displayed here is excellent.
Samples were provided by Long Island Spirits, Harvest Spirits, J=Hidden Marsh, Mazza, Finger Lakes Distilling, Tuthilltown Spirits, Hidden Marsh and Warwick Valley.
They included vodka, eau de vie, gin, corn whiskey, rye whiskey, applejack, brandy, apple liqueur, grappa, cherry cordial and a pair of "sorbetta" citrus liquers.
NEXT: The proof's in the tasting.
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