For the past decade, Tuthilltown Spirits has tapped into a rich pre-Prohibition tradition of New York distillation. In 2001, Ralph Erenzo and Vicki Morgan purchased a 220-year-old gristmill and teamed with technical mastermind Brian Lee to convert the building into a micro-distillery. They started with vodka, and have gone on to produce New York Corn Whiskey, Baby Bourbon Whiskey, Manhattan Rye Whiskey and Four Grain Bourbon Whiskey. Tuthilltown Spirits also produces rum, eau de vie, brandy and infusions. In 2007, Ralph’s son Gable Erenzo joined the Tuthilltown crew as a distiller and brand ambassador. We met at a spirit showcase on the Las Perlas patio, and he subsequently shared insights about the distillery, his background and approach.
What distinguishes Tuthilltown Spirits from other distilleries in terms of your approach and product?
Tuthilltown sources about 90% of raw materials from within 10 miles of the distillery. By maintaining close ties to our farmers, we are able to acquire high quality grains while also having the ability to experiment with heirloom varietals on a smaller scale. Our apples for our vodka come from an orchard 3 miles up the road on which we own trees with a number of grafted varietals from the old country. The micro-distillation process allows for a very dynamic approach, giving us the ability to create new products and innovate with established spirit types.
Also, we employ a whole mash process. This allows us to create very grain oriented flavors in our finished product. These are two approaches that create a very distinguished product.
Why was it important to expand beyond whiskey?
I think its important to create spirits with the materials at hand. If you live near orchards, make brandy or vodkas from those apples. If you live on Washington Island where they grow varietals of wheat, make wheat whiskey. If you are surrounded by fruits and berries, make brandies or eu de vie.
No reason to expand beyond whiskey if the distillery is surrounded by grain fields. For us, where we are, its important, and fun, to create new types of spirits with what we have at hand. This is good the farmers, the distillers and the consumers.
How did you become so interested in spirits?
Well…thats a loaded question. Spirits have long been a part of my life, though in very different capacities.
From a craft, distillation end, I learned most of what I know here at Tuthilltown, on the job. After learning the distillation process from the inside out, I was hooked. Now I enjoy learning as much as I can about our craft and the other craftsmen working parallel to us. There is a true satisfaction in tasting other artisanal products, as well as the more established products of Scotland or Kentucky. Those guys obviously know what they are doing, and it shows. Its truly amazing though how American micro-distillers have created such a wide variety of high quality spirits with very little knowledge of the processes and so few avenues of learning. These guys are almost all self taught.
Do you have a first whiskey memory?
The memories of my first whiskey experiences are long gone.
How did Tuthilltown Spirits come about, and why the name?
Ralph Erenzo and Brian Lee our the founders of Tuthilltown Spirits. Ralph bought the Tuthilltown Gristmill property in 2001 with the intention of creating a climbers ranch with afforable accommodations for climbers visiting the world renowned Shawangunk mountains. After some local resistance to the project, Ralph invited a friend over who was on the zoning board. “What an we do without having to ask permission?” His answer was “Farm Winery”. Any farm use is by right and would allow us to move forward without any NIMBY resistors. (These were only 2 neighbors with deep pockets and a adamant opposition to having climbers swimming in shared pond). In the process of researching farm winery licenses, Ralph stumbled across a new class of distillery licenses (A-1 Farm distillers license). This started the ball rolling.
Around the same time, Brian Lee was poking around the properties 18th century mill with a slight interest in taking on the mill as a retirement project. After one season running the mill, he thought better of it. Ralph suggested looking into the distillery idea as well. A few weeks later Brians house was mortgaged, Ralph put up the property and Still 1 was ordered.
The name comes from the gentleman who built the mill in 1788, Selah Tuthill. Tuthilltown was actually a hamlet that predated the current town of Gardiner, NY.
Do you have any mentors?
My distilling mentors are Ralph and Brian. Its amazing what they have created, business-wise and liquid-wise. All with no prior knowledge of distillation.
What was your major in college?
Business Management with a minor in Marketing. No, no science background…though you could certainly consider my onsite education as at least minor status.
Do you think that helps you in your position?
Absolutely. Business and staff management is always one of the hardest aspects of building a business. Also a basic understanding of Marketing can only help any small brand or business.
Who are some other distillers who you respect?
Hubert Germain-Robin, Jorg Rupf, Lance Winters, Rick Wasmund, Fritz Maytag to name a few. These are some of the leaders in the American Micro-Distillation movement. All of whom are creating amazing spirits from scratch. Of course there are the big dogs too such as Fred Noe, Parker Beam and Jimmy Russel, all of whom have decades in the field of distillation.
What’s a great simple whiskey cocktail for people to make at home, and what’s the recipe?
The quintessential “Manhattan” Try with any whiskey, but be discerning in your choice of sweet vermouth. I suggest Dolins or Carpano Antica for a delicious outcome.
one of my favorite recipes
2oz Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey
1oz Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
2 dashes of Fee Brothers Aromatic bitters
stir in ice for a moment and strain into martini glass. Garnish with a lemon zest (zest over glass to cover the cocktail with citrus oils).
What’s upcoming for Tuthilltown Spirits?
Ive planted some apple seeds. So check back in 15 years for my apple brandies :-). Really though, Ill be focusing on Apple Brandies over the next 5 years or so.
For now, check out our Hudson New York Corn whiskey. Amazing in any whiskey cocktail and available nationwide.
If you could only drink one more cocktail, what would it be?
Probably either a Hudson Sazerac or a Ramos Gin Fizz (with Deaths Door Gin).