A Visit to Tuthilltown Distillery

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We’re working on a story about the first whiskey made in New York state since before prohibition. It comes to us from a little place in Gardiner, N.Y. called <a href=”http://www.tuthilltown.com/” target=”_blank”> Tuthilltown Spirits. </a>

Gardiner is in Ulster County, a little more than an hour north of Rockland, next to an adorable old Gristmill that is on the National Register of Historic Places:

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The mill has been around since 1788. Until Tuthilltown Spirits bought it, the mill was used to grind kosher flour out of matzo. Before that, it was a regular flour mill.

Here’s a painting of it Ralph found in the barn:

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Wow! You might think: They can grind their own grains for spirits! How cool! They could have, until just recently. One of the owners, Ralph Erenzo, sold the property that has the mill and river:

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Too bad — because the mill is how Ralph’s partner, Brian Lee, became interested in the distillery. He was a volunteer for many years at Philipsburg Manor, where he became the resident expert on milling.

Now he’s the resident expert on distilling. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of Brian (who lives in Suffern, by the way), but we’ll have plenty in the newspaper next week and when a segment airs about Tuthilltown on RNN.

But here’s Ralph, checking the still, which is in a building across the street from the gristmill.

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The still:

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After the booze is distilled (a long process, which we’ll explain briefly in the article), it goes into these wooden barrels to age:

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See the little one? That’s one of the barrels they use for their “Baby Bourbon.” They say it’s the first bourbon ever to be produced in New York.

Here’s a photo of a bottle, which I bought at <a href=”http://www.piermontwine.com/ ” target=”_blank”> Piermont Fine Wines & Spirits </a> (along with some wine I bought — please ignore that!)

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I had a taste at the shop, and I quite like it. It’s expensive though — $40 for a .375. If you’re interested, though, get down there: owner Jung Kim only has four bottles left. (Though there are other retail outlets; check the Tuthilltown web site.)

This kind of craftsmanship is amazing to see in the Hudson Valley. And my favorite part? The relationship it builds among craftsman of all sorts: Brian has asked farmers to grow a special breed of corn for him; and when he’s done using the barrels, a local vinegar-maker buys them.

Stay tuned for more about Tuthilltown — we’re heading to Manhattan on Monday for the launch party at the Four Seasons!

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About Author

Liz Johnson is content strategist for The Journal News and lohud.com, and the founding editor of lohudfood, formerly know as Small Bites. As food editor, she won awards from the New York News Publishers Association, the Association of Food Journalists and the Associated Press. She lives in Nyack with her husband and daughter on a tiny suburban lot they call their farm — with fruit trees, an herb garden, and a yardful of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, shallots, cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, cabbage, peppers, Brussels sprouts and carrots and four big blueberry bushes.

4 Comments

  1. think that it really sucks about what happened to the Tuthilltown Mill. I don’t know Brian Lee, but I knew Charles Howell for a number of years who was the miller at Philipsburg Manor Mill.

    The number one rule of the National Register of Historic Places is that you cannot change the intended original use of the structure. This means that it can only ever be a flour mill. Ralph Erenzo destroyed the wonderful Kosher flour business which did not hurt any body. Develop the property, that sucks when you destroy the art of the miller to make booze. Booze is not a foodstuff, and what craftsmanship is there in making Bourbon. The tradition of the area is that it was an early milling center under the Dutch. The most expensive thing about making flour is not the cost of production, labor, grain, but the individual cost per flour sack.

    Sure George Smith wanted to retire. But shut down the milling business, sell off the flour making machinery, and try and rent the mill out to someone sucker who would try and make a go of it. What kind of business sense it that. I know someone who has an old flour mill which produces flour. He always says if his profit drops below 150 thousand a year, he is selling out. Somehow it is not worth it for him to say in business. You can operate an old or modern flour mill and be dependent up people walking in the door to buy flour. You will never make any money that way, unless you are Mabry Mill along the Blue Ridge Parkway that sells 3 million sacks of corn meal, corn grist, and buckwheat flour, and all of it make in North Carolina and New York State.

  2. I’d like to respond to the above. When I bought the mill from George Smith Jr. he was ready to stop. The mill had a single customer, the Kosher community, which Master Matzo baker was hunting for and found a more modern facility using twentieth century machines rather than eighteenth century machines modified to fit the current need. And no market would support the work. We ran the mill for three years and the Kosher client went off to his new mill where he is happy and producing flour now and our good friend. You are incorrect, there is no obligation to maintain any building or structure on the National Register of Historic Palces in it’s original shape, form or use. It has simply outlived it’s useful life as a mill. I attempted to find someone to rent or lease or somehow use the mill for three years without success. Where were you? It is now being converted to a new use as a restaurant so that it will still be open to the public and to the extent possible still reflect a feel for the early history of the place and it’s use. But you are out of your league when you critize others for not what you know nothing about. You “know someone whoo has an old flour mill which produced flour.” That appears to be the extent of your knowlege about the workings or responsibility of making flour with a 225 year old wooden water powered machine that can compete on the modern market where flour is available at every single grocery store in the country for $2.50 a five pound bag. Adaptive reuse is the key to keeping historic buildings in use and available to the public; not insistance on owners maintaining a diorama of early life to satisfy the asthetic senseibilities of people who don’t have the temerity to reach into their own pockets and put their money and time and reputation on the table. Better to keep buildings in use and open to the public, or they simply rot and fall down.

  3. Benno Blumenthal on

    While Ralph Erenzo is probably right that running a mostly water-powered gristmill is a hard row to hoe, and three years was not enough to find someone to do it, I don’t think he is accurately characterizing the business that was the Tuthilltown Grist Mill. I was a regular customer (though certainly not enough to keep a mill in business) when I lived in the area, and as a customer it seemed that the mill was set aside for milling Kosher flour once-a-year, maybe a month (distinctive because the mill was powered by a tractor at that time, probably because there was not enough water flow to mill a sufficient amount of flour in the time allowed). The rest of the year the shop was open, and a variety of milled products were sold. The products were varied and of excellent quality, and most of the unusual flours and meals that Tuthilltown sold are not available in grocery stores at any price. Buying whole grain flours in a grocery store is problematic — it is not enough that the store carry the product, the people who shop at the store have to buy a lot of it so that the stock is kept fresh — a combination of factors which makes it pretty impossible to find good whole grain flours very far from a mill.

  4. An anecdote, for those who criticize. From time to time someone drives up to the mill and asks if it is open. “No, it’s been closed for four years now.” And the visitor always disappointed because of fond memories of buying flour at the shop as a kid, “Why did it close?” And I respond, “When was the last time you were to the shop to buy something?” They think, and “Oh about ten years ago.” So I tell them “That’s why the mill is no longer open.” The Tuthilltown Gristmill indeed continues on the National Historic Register, despite the opinion of the first writer above. There is no requirement it remain an outdated, unprofitable, albatross around the neck of its owner. It was on the market for sale for three years (and before I bought it from the Smiths it had been for sale for twenty years, not a single miller or would be fan of the Gristmill bought it, till I did), where were all the devotees of the mill then? The new owner is converting it to a family style restaurant which will complement the existing new use of the old granaries as New York’s first Whiskey distillery/shop/tasting room (using New York Agricultural materials grown locally by the way) in over a hundred years. In a way which far surpasses any in the past, the public will have greater access to the inside of the the historic mill rather than have it waste away and eventually fall down. Anyone familiar with the Tuthilltown Gristmill can not ignore the very visible changes it went through over the years, the building evolved. It evolves still. I can only tell those who condemn the creative reuse of old structures, get out your checkbooks and buy them and then keep them maintained; otherwise be grateful there are others who are bold enough to reach into their own pockets and put their money and time and reputations on the line to keep a historic structure in productive use.

    Ralph Erenzo
    Tuthilltown Spirits
    Gardiner, NY

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