Home > Art, Distillery, Experiences, Whiskey > Gumption, Tenacity and Whiskey

Gumption, Tenacity and Whiskey

DSC_0849Ralph Erenzo had a dream. Being an avid rock-climber, he had a vision of building a “resort” for the rock climbers, a place where they will be able to relax and have fun. With that vision in mind, in 2001, he acquired an old 35 acres farm in upstate New York, about 80 miles up north from New York City.

It appears that his new neighbors had their own idea of who the rock climbers are, as the first thing they told him was that they will do everything in their power to prevent him from successfully realizing his dream – they don’t need all these “bad people rock climbers” to come to their quiet neighborhood. And they did. Two years down the road, having sold 15 acres out of the 35 and practically out of money, Ralph had to think about what to do next.

He talked to the local authorities, asking “what can I do here”, and he got somewhat of an obvious answer – well, it is a farm, so nobody can object if you will use it as a farm. So, what can you do at the farm? Creating a vineyard was one option – but the wait time until the vines will be able to bear decent fruit was not acceptable to Ralph. Then something interesting caught his eye – New York state passed the law encouraging creation of the small distilleries, thus reducing the license fees from $60,000 to only $1,000 for three years. That was an “aha” moment, and this is how Tuthilltown distillery was born.

Ralph had no idea about spirits and distillation, but he was eager to learn – thus he built his first distilling apparatus out of the copper tea kettle and proceeded with practical exercises in the comfort of his own kitchen (boy, am I glad the Prohibition was over) – you can now see that original machinery on display in the tasting room at the distillery:

how the things started...

how the things started…

From there on, there was a lot of excitement, learning, selling, upgrading, building of a real business, selling it and much much more. You know what – let me ask for the 18 minutes of your time – you will much better learn everything which happened from the Ralph Erenzo himself. In return, I will tell you that you will learn about gumption and tenacity, and may be some of you will even feel encouraged to do something they’ve being postponing for the long time. Watch this TEDx video, and then come back for more fun facts and pictures.

When we visited distillery few weeks ago, Ralph Erenzo was leading our tour.

Ralph Erenzo leading our tour

Ralph Erenzo leading our tour

It was really a great experience, listening to someone who “made it”, and who is nevertheless very much down to earth. I hope you watched the video, as I don’t plan to repeat what was said there. In the day to day operations of Tuthilltown, there is a constant desire to optimize, improve, waste nothing, be self-sufficient and most importantly, to be a fun place to work at (the distillery currently employs 25 people on staff). Just to give you few examples of the mindset:

Ralph showed us their new steam boiler waiting to be installed –  acquired on eBay for the absolute fraction of the price of the new one.

Big solar panels are installed right on property – on a good sunny day, they generate enough electricity to power up the whole production and return electricity back to the grid.

Tuthilltown also grows its own apples (750 trees are planted, and another 750 will be planted soon), some of them on those 15 acres which Ralph had to sell, but later was able to buy back.

The distillery owns a cooperage, so they have control over the wooden casks, which are [the most] important part of making the whiskey.

After the grains are crushed, fermented and converted to liquid with alcohol, the leftover mass needs to be removed. Today, it means hauling it to the town dump and paying for the disposal. The distillery is about to install the machine which will convert the leftovers into the water (which will be used back at the distillery) and a little bit of ash – making the distillery completely green and even more self-sufficient.

The distillery needs grains to make whiskey. The grains are typically stored in silos. Say the word “silo” – what picture comes to mind? A super-boring, huge  column, colored in gray or brown, right? Well, not at Tuthilltown. The graffiti artists were invited, to make the silos look like the museum pieces:

Silos at Tuthilltown Distillery

Silos at Tuthilltown Distillery

you can see solar panels in the back

you can see solar panels in the back

Let’s talk quickly about how the whiskey are made (yes, I have a few more pictures to share). To make a whiskey, you need corn, or rye, or barley, or some other grain – something like you see below, only in slightly bigger quantities:

The beginning of whiskey

The beginning of whiskey

Then you have to run it through the mill, like this one used at Tuthilltown distillery (circa 1930s):

Manually operated (!) grain mill

Manually operated (!) grain mill

Add water and yeast to the coarsely ground grains, get some heat going, and fermentation will start. Once you are done fermenting, the leftovers mash will be disposed, and the water with alcohol will go through the distillation process, where they will be separated.

Distillation column at Tuthilltown

Distillation column at Tuthilltown

Once you have the alcohol, it can be either bottled as is, or it can be aged in the barrels. When it comes to ageing, Tuthilltown uses heavily charred new American Oak casks (made by the cooperage which they own).

Small American oak cask

Small American oak cask

DSC_0828

Ageing goodness

American whiskey is typically aged for 30-40 days per gallon, so if you have a 10 gallon cask, it will take a bit longer than a year to reach the proper age – of course whiskey can be aged for any period of time, but at least today Tuthilltown doesn’t produce any whiskey with extended ageing.

Once the ageing is done or close to be done, bottlers will decide when the particular batch is ready to be bottled. The bottling operation is located in the basement of Tuthilltown distillery. The process starts from filling the empty bottles:

this is where the bottles are filled

this is where the bottles are filled

Then the bottles are closed with cork, and dipped into the hot wax and lastly, labeled:

labeling part

labeling part

Labeling was one of the most mundane tasks which Tuthilltown automated very recently. By automating this task, it allowed people to use the freed up time for something useful and creative – and the new product, called Basement Bitters was born ( beautiful aromatic drops for your cocktail).

And once you are done with the labeling, you get … lots of whiskey, ready to be numbered (by hand!) and shipped for all of us to enjoy:

Ready to go

Ready to go

yes, ready

yes, ready

And of course after the tour you can go and taste the whiskey (and vodka, and gin) in the tasting room:

Tasting time!

Tasting time!

Don't forget the bitters

Don’t forget the bitters

Tuthilltown lineup includes Indigenous Vodka (made out of apples), Half Moon Orchard Gin, Hudson New York Corn Whiskey (unaged), Hudson Baby Bourbon, Hudson Four Grains Bourbon and Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey ( last three are all aged whiskeys). Hudson Baby Bourbon is my favorite, but hey, you have to taste it for yourself.

And I think we are done here. I hope you found the time to watch the video. And what I want to leave you with is this:

Dictionary.com defines “gumption” as:

1. initiative; aggressiveness; resourcefulness

2. courage; spunk; guts

Follow your dreams! Cheers!

  1. August 27, 2013 at 10:37 am

    I’m glad he stuck it out and made this work! This would be a great place for my husband and I to visit and try these lovely spirits 🙂

    • talkavino
      August 27, 2013 at 3:54 pm

      Definitely worth a visit! Also you can’t go wrong with the food and scenery around – such a trip can be easily converted into a weekend getaway.

  2. August 27, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    LOVE the silos! We have a distillery in Virginia called Copper Fox that makes a single malt and rye whiskey. I’ve visited a couple of times, and I always think it smells so good inside. They aren’t allowed to give tastings, though. Great post! Salud!

    • talkavino
      August 27, 2013 at 3:52 pm

      I didn’t right it in the post, but it is mentioned in the video – Ralph was working very hard to change the New York law to allow tasting at the distillery. Since 2007, in New York you can taste up to 3 different spirits.

  3. August 28, 2013 at 5:25 am

    very interesting post!

    • talkavino
      August 28, 2013 at 6:12 am

      Thank you!

  4. August 29, 2013 at 10:08 am

    I love that this is a local distillery, I have to try this whiskey. Thanks for highlighting this, I love supporting local business.

    • talkavino
      August 29, 2013 at 11:27 pm

      Absolutely! Tuthilltown makes excellent whiskey. By the way, I have a fun fact for you – there are 64 farm distilleries today in the State of New York – 12 out of those 64 are located in … Brooklyn!

    • talkavino
      August 29, 2013 at 11:27 pm

      Absolutely! Tuthilltown makes excellent whiskey. By the way, I have a fun fact for you – there are 64 farm distilleries today in the State of New York – 12 out of those 64 are located in … Brooklyn!

  1. November 10, 2013 at 2:13 pm
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  3. August 30, 2015 at 8:16 am
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