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At Home in the Adirondacks 2016

In Good Spirits

Homegrown farm distilleries take root in the Adirondacks

Photograph by Lisa J. Godfrey

Gristmill Distillers, in Keene. Photograph by Lisa J. Godfrey

A smooth liquor can stimulate the senses. It can stimulate a smile or a conversation. And, yes, it can even stimulate the local economy.

Almost a decade ago, New York State rolled out its first Farm Distillery Act, easing regulations and costs for small-batch distilleries that source 75 percent of their ingredients in-state. The suits in Albany have tinkered with the law since then, making changes—upping the yearly output cap, allowing sales at farmers’ markets, giving a nod to full-size pours at tasting rooms—that have helped the state’s farm-to-tumbler industry more than double in the last few years. That distillery-friendly spirit is not only good for booze-minded entrepreneurs, it’s also been a boon for neighboring farms, orchards, bottle and barrel makers, label designers and, of course, the tourism industry (see the Adirondack Craft Beverage Trail and Map at www.adkcraftbev.com). Our region has attracted its share of alcohol artisans—all largely self-taught—who are offering an impressive array of tasty pours. So drink up. It’s for the greater good.

Springbrook Hollow Farm Distillery

When “almost retired” orthopedic surgeon Dave Bannon’s animal-loving children grew up and flew the nest, he was left with a case of empty-barn syndrome. In 2014 he replaced horses with hooch, opening Springbrook Hollow Farm Distillery on his Queensbury spread, stationed just inside the Blue Line.

He hasn’t done it alone. His friend Ken Rohne, who has a day job at a Glens Falls hardware company, supervised the transformation of the 19th-century barn into a roomy headquarters for crafting, aging, bottling and showcasing Springbrook Hollow’s stable of liquors. Bannon’s future son-in-law, Mike Forcier—an engineer with a degree in chemistry and biology—works out the formulas and oversees production. Forcier’s friend Tony DeSantis, who has a background in beer distribution, helps get the product out to the public. And the public has been very receptive. Bannon says that the operation produced just 8,000 bottles its first year; in 2016, he expects the output to top 20,000 bottles.

Part of the appeal is the setting. It would be hard to imagine a more picturesque farm distillery than Springbrook Hollow, with its tree-lined approach and hilltop barn. There’s a fieldstone-rimmed patio and plenty of rolling field for outdoor events. Inside, visitors can check out the sleek 275-gallon copper pot still.

But the true draw is the product, a line of vodka, liqueurs, gin, moonshine and bourbon made with local grains, apple cider, maple syrup and unprocessed spring water straight off the property. The first batch of Springbrook Hollow’s latest offering, Adirondack High Rye Bourbon, hit shelves in July. Bannon says the plan for this fall is planting a test-plot of rye for a special release of whiskey fully sourced from the farm.

The enterprise has brought home some bling: a double gold for Two Sisters Vodka and a gold for Sly Fox Gin from the online guide The Fifty Best. The recognition is nice, Bannon says, but “we haven’t been concentrating on that much. We haven’t had the time.”

Springbrook Hollow’s spirits are available at its tasting room (133 Clements Road, Queensbury) and at dozens of retailers throughout the state. For details, call (518) 338-3130 or visit www.springbrookhollow.com.

Gristmill Distillers

Like moonshining setups of old, Gristmill Distillers, of Keene, is hidden in the thick of a forest by a tumbling mountain brook. Google won’t get you there. And locals might not even be able to help you find the place.

That’s by design. Gristmill doesn’t offer public tours or a trendy tasting room (at least not yet). For now, the three-year-old business—founded by 35-year-old Keith Van Sise with the help of his girlfriend, Steph Hadik, and a group of rock-climbing friends—is all about producing high-quality whiskey, bourbon and brandy.

It happens in a 2,000-square-foot workspace behind Van Sise’s home, a property that once belonged to his grandparents. The operation has a garage-band feel, like a crew of cool kids got up one morning and decided to revolutionize the art of moonshining.

Van Sise, who works in construction management, Frankensteined together the 66-gallon still that pumps out the equivalent of 600 bottles a month. Tyler Eaton, an organic livestock farmer from Jay, helps birth the batches, along with outdoor guide John Mackey, of Keene, and Wilmington children’s book author Maxwell Eaton. Leigh Campbell, a former public-affairs specialist with the U.S. Army, handles the website, labels and marketing. Van Sise and Hadik field just about everything else, from sourcing to sales. “I don’t think any of us really has a title,” he says.

That doesn’t mean they’re not serious, especially about their products’ hyper-local provenance. Corn and rye for Rusty Piton Moonshine and Black Fly Bourbon come from Adirondack Organic Grains, in Essex; Rulf’s Orchard, in Peru, provides the fresh-pressed cider for 1892 Forever Wild Apple Brandy. Wilmington’s U.S. Barrel (see page 26) crafts the barrels, including those currently aging Gristmill’s next big thing, a whiskey laced with syrup from Black Rooster Maple, down the road in Keene.

“A lot of people don’t understand what you can do close to home,” says Van Sise. “The park has so much to offer. Why waste all that fuel and energy when everything is right here in the Adirondacks?”

Find a list of state-wide outlets carrying Gristmill Distillers’ wares at www.gristmilldistillers.com.

Murray’s Fools Distillery

When W. H. H. Murray’s great-great-grandson Randall Beach and his wife, Sarah, named their Altona farm distillery Murray’s Fools, they weren’t just honoring him—the author behind the notorious Adirondack tourism boom of 1869—they were also raising a glass to the hopeful greenhorns who followed his siren song into the wilds.

That’s fitting, since Randall and Sarah, both in their 40s, are a bit wet behind the ears themselves—at least when it comes to the liquor trade. Randall has been practicing law for about two decades; Sarah has been working almost as long in marketing. But a whiskey-tasting group and a one-week crash course in Seattle convinced the couple to add distilling to their résumés.

In the entrepreneurial spirit of Murray, they converted a 3,000-square-foot workshop on Randall’s mother’s property—just a hundred or so feet from the Blue Line—into a liquor laboratory. They’ve customized the outfit themselves, from grain grinder to charcoal filter, traveling from their home in Schenectady to work on weekends. The outfit’s pair of 200-liter stills were christened Lois Ann (after Randall’s mother) and Barbara Anne (after Sarah’s).

In August Murray’s Fools capped its first 90 bottles of Snowshoe Vodka—named for the Snow Shoe Cafe that Murray opened in Montreal—and the couple has started to shop the brand around to stores and restaurants. Their tasting room should be open this fall; future flavors might include apple brandy, rye whiskey and gin.

“It takes some kind of crazy to do this—a unique individual,” says Sarah. But it just might be a good thing when fools rush in.

Learn more at www.murraysfoolsdistilling.com.

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