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SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY — New York’s winemakers like to extoll the virtues of the differences in soil and weather that affect the grapes they use to make their wines. New York’s distillers don’t make as much of a distinction.
"Marketing our products really depends on selling the overall high quality and handcrafted nature of what we make,” said Jeremy Kidde (right), owner of American Fruits Distillery, a division of Warwick Valley Winery in Orange County.
Speaking as a panelist at a seminar and tasting of New York craft-distilled spirits at Longfellows restaurant Tuesday, Kidde said:
“We got into marketing early to promote our eau de vie products, mostly in Manhattan. Retailers were anxious to take us on. But the scale was surprising. We sold two cases in a year, and they told us some of the major imports sold only four cases a year for things like Trimbach and eau de vies.
"We saw it wasn’t a big market here, so we went into fruit liqueurs. We sell some things, such as our apple liqueur, as an after-dinner drink, or others, like our sour cherry cordial, as mixers."
Of course, getting started in the business is no slam-dunk.
Ralph Erenzo (left), co-founder in 2001 with Brian Lee and Vicki Morgan of Tuthilltown Spirits in Ulster County, the state’s first whiskey distillery founded since Prohibition, related an anecdote about setting up his German-made still.
"We started unpacking all the crates and realized the set-up instructions were all in German," he said. "None of us spoke German, but we thought we could figure it out.
"When we unpacked some chairs, I thought, 'I wonder if Brian ordered chairs so we could sit and watch the still working.' Then we came across all sorts of glass items, and finally we realized what we had received was equipment meant for a hair salon. In Queens!"
The mixup eventually was fixed, of course, and each business got the proper equipment. But, until that happened, “We wondered what the hair stylists thought when they started unpacking a still.”
What is the future of such products, given their relative infancy in the market, particularly the liqueurs and cordials that have always been a niche product compared to whiskies, vodkas, gins and bourbons?
"Dekuyper" — mass-manufacturer of a huge variety of cordials and liqueurs used mostly for cocktails — "has had its day," Kidde said. "People want high quality, handcrafted ingredients."
His fellow panelists agreed: Erenzo, Richard Stabile of Long Island Spirits, Derek Grout of Harvest Spirits and Brian McKenzie of Finger Lakes Distilling, who brought a variety of their products to the event. co-sponsored by the New York Craft Distillers Guid and the New York Wine & Culinary Center. Hidden Marsh Distillery and Mazza Chautauqua Cellars sent samples as well.
My tasting notes of the three flights of spirits samples — unaged spirits, aged spirits and cordials:
• LiV Vodka: This spirit, utilizing the region’s signature potatoes, gets your attention immediately with its slightly citrusy nose, its pleasing oiliness and its hints of grapefruit and rose petals. I’d put LiV right into the top echelon of potato vodkas I’ve sampled in recent years. From Long Island Spirits.
• Harvest Spirits Core Vodka: This apple-based clear spirit is true to its origin with a vaguely apple note and a hint of spice. Smooth, warm and clean finishing. From Golden Harvest Farms in Columbia County.
• Hidden Marsh BEE Vodka: A honey-based spirit with a bit of a sting. Not that acrid sharpness lower-priced vodkas have, but a pleasant note on the tongue, and a warm, smooth finish. From the Montezuma Winery in Seneca Falls.
• Mazza Chautauqua Plum Eau de Vie: This is a delicate spirit, with floral notes and touches of cardamom and orange. An excellent product. From Mazza Chautauqua Cellars in Chautauqua County.
• Seneca Drums Gin: This is an extremely distinctive gin, with botanicals that provide the imbiber with clover, menthol and spice, all things that will hold up to a dry vermouth or a fruit juice when mixed into a cocktail. From Finger Lakes Distilling in Burdett.
• Tuthilltown Spirits New York Corn Whiskey: A delightfully robust and smooth product, not at all the “moonshine” its name might connote. Powerful alcohol notes, typical of the genre. From Tuthilltown Spirits in Orange County.
• Tuthilltown Spirits Manhattan Rye Whiskey: Spicy, floral, a great nose. At once robust and clean on the palate. An excellent addition to the category.
• McKenzie Rye Whiskey: A pronounced caramel and clove yin-and-yang that makes this rich spirit distinctive. From Finger Lakes Distilling.
• Harvest Spirits Cornelius Applejack: A nicely old-fashioned style to this recipe, which results in touches of apple, cloves, caramel and violet.
• Hidden Marsh Queen’s Flight Honey Brandy: A multi-level taste profile, with eucalyptus on top and warm honey notes below. An underlying smoothness to the overall taste.
• Warwick Valley Bourbon Barrel Apple Liqueur: This is a hard cider with aged apple brandy added, finished in once-used bourbon barrels. There is a buttery feel to it, with pronounced flavor of Jonagold apples. A gentle, refined spirit.
• Mazza Chautauqua Grappa of Steuben: Steuben and vidal are the two most-used grappa base ingredients among New York distillers. This version is clean, slightly floral and has a honeyed finish.
• Long Island Spirits Sorbetta Lemon: Immediately reminiscent of French pastille candies in the aroma. A lovely lemon yellow color, fruit forward but with a distinct touch of butterscotch in the finish.
• Long Island Spirits Sorbetta Orange: Orange cake frosting comes immediately to mind. A touch cloying in the middle notes, but the citrus then comes to the rescue and the finish is clean and refreshing.
• Warwick Valley Sour Cherry Cordial: This is the way I like cherry pie to taste — a hint of cinnamon and cloves, a touch of the tartness of the New York Montmorency cherries, made with a brandy of cherries, grapes and apples. Superb.
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