Drink Local: Farm-to-Glass Distilleries
Taking a page from the locavore food movement, many craft distilleries around the country like to boast about the quality and local source of their ingredients. Some even go so far as to talk about how their liquor reflects the so-called terroir of the area.
But there are just a handful of brands that are truly “grain-to-glass” (or “farm-to-flask” if you prefer). These producers are truly in control of every single step of the distillation process, actually going so far as to grow their ingredients themselves on-site. Here are a few of these hyper-local distilleries to check out.
Since 1857, six generations of the Barber family have raised dairy cows and grown a variety of produce on a farm in Upstate New York’s fertile Schoharie Valley. They added a distillery to the mix about five years ago, though its first product only hit the market in late 2016. 1857 Potato Vodka is made from, you guessed it, potatoes grown on Barber’s Farm, along with water from the farm’s own spring. It’s got that lovely rich-and-creamy texture typical of potato-based vodkas that’s great in a Martini. 1857’s products are currently available only in New York, and the brand plans to roll out a gin sometime later this year.
You probably associate Nevada more with an endless desert than with lush farm fields, but a 1,200-acre plantation just outside Reno called Frey Ranch has been growing grains for more than a century. In 2001, the ranch established Nevada’s first estate winery, making Churchill Vineyards whites from grapes grown on-site. In 2014, it went into the spirits business, becoming what may be the world’s only distillery that grows four different grains—corn, wheat, rye, and barley—on-site. Today, the Frey Ranch distillery makes them into vodka, gin, and absinthe that you can buy in six different states at the moment. There’s also a batch of bourbon aging in the warehouse, but it won’t be ready for at least another two years.
Far North Spirits’ name is no lie: This distillery is in Hallock, Minnesota, at the very northwestern corner of the state, less than an hour’s drive from the Canadian border. Founder Michael Swanson’s great-grandfather Gustaf built a rye farm here after emigrating from Sweden in the early 1900s. As rye whiskey sales have taken off in recent years, Swanson decided to turn the family’s crop into something more spirited. Today, Far North offers two gins and a vodka made entirely from its own rye, as well as a rye whiskey made from 80 percent house-grown rye and 20 percent corn and barley sourced from elsewhere in Minnesota. You can find Far North’s spirits in nine states around the country.
Derek Grout opened Harvest Spirits in 2008. It grew out of Golden Harvest Farms, an apple orchard and cider press opened by Grout’s grandparents in the 1950s. He still uses an antique rack-and-cloth cider press to squeeze the juice out of the farm’s apples, which he ferments and distills into both Cornelius Applejack, a brandy aged in ex-bourbon casks, and Core Vodka, a uniquely floral vodka that requires 60 pounds of apples for each bottle. If you visit the distillery just outside of Albany, New York, you can also enjoy some fresh-pressed cider (alcoholic or non-) along with the delicious spirits.
Though delicious to eat, sweet potatoes are fairly difficult to ferment and distill, which is why there aren’t many spirits made from them out there. David Souza didn’t care about that when he opened his distillery, though. The fourth generation of his family to grow sweet potatoes in Atwater, a speck on the map in central California’s San Joaquin Valley, Souza worked for years to refine his methods and create Corbin Vodka, made from his own sweet potatoes and named for his son, Corbin Cash Souza. Since then, the line has expanded into a gin and a sweet potato liqueur, plus a rye whiskey made from grain that Souza plants in between sweet potato harvests and a unique blended whiskey distilled from a mix of sweet potatoes and rye.
If there’s such a thing as a rock-star distiller, Dave Pickerell is it. In 2008, after 14 years as master distiller for Maker’s Mark, he left to become a consultant to the burgeoning craft-distillery movement and has since worked with many different brands. For Hillrock Estate, Pickerell teamed up with Jeff Baker, who grew up on farms and raised dairy and beef cattle before planting grains to make into whiskey on his family farm in the Hudson Valley town of Ancram, New York. The Hillrock Estate farm not only grows corn, rye, and barley but also malts the barley on-site, something done by only a handful of distilleries around the world. Hillrock’s rye whiskey and peat-smoked single malt are both made from exclusively estate-grown grain, while its bourbon is a mix of whiskey made from Hillrock grain and whiskey distilled elsewhere. Today, you can find its products in about a dozen states all told.
In 1849, a Hungarian nobleman planted one of the first vineyards in Wisconsin, on a slope overlooking the Wisconsin River in the town of Prairie du Sac. The grapes were used to make both wine and brandy. Prohibition killed the operation, turning the vineyard into a produce farm, but in 1972, the Wollersheim family bought the land, replanting the grape vines and building a winery that’s grown significantly over the last four decades. But they didn’t bring back distilling until 2015, when they released the first batch of Coquard Brandy, distilled from Wollersheim white wine and aged two years in barrels made from Wisconsin oak. The distillery also makes an apple brandy, an absinthe, and a gin, but only the Coquard comes from estate-grown grapes.
There are lots of craft distilleries in New York using local ingredients, and that’s by design: The state’s senate passed a series of laws allowing so-called farm distilleries that use mostly New York-grown ingredients to do things other alcohol producers can’t, including operating on-site restaurants, bars, and retail stores. With Gardiner Liquid Mercantile, Gable Erenzo is taking full advantage. The former co-owner and chief distiller at the award-winning Tuthilltown Spirits, Erenzo partnered with the Hudson Valley’s Dressel Farms to build a distillery next to the orchard’s cider house, which makes brandy from the orchard’s own apples, peaches, pears, strawberries, and grapes. Those spirits are available only at the restaurant/bar/shop Erenzo opened in late 2015 just five miles from the orchard.