We’ve come a long way from bathtub gin and moonshine during the Prohibition Era, but home-brewed beer and distilled spirits are seeing a comeback – legally this time. As microbreweries continue to crop up across the nation, there is also a new wave of micro-distilleries producing their own vodka, whiskey, bourbon, and gin. Recent changes in New York laws are making it easier for businesses to open their own distilleries, and the numerous wineries in the Finger Lakes, Erie Lakes, and Hudson River regions can make an easy transition.
The trend coincides with the “farm-to-table” movement and the concept of buying local, placing an emphasis on flavor and quality. Many farms in the Finger Lakes region are experimenting with fruit-distilled spirits with much success, and grain-to-glass distilleries are setting up shop in upstate New York cities, many with tasting rooms and tours. Finger Lakes Distilling — Photo courtesy of Finger Lakes Distilling
Apple Country Spirits
Apple Country Spirits is making its mark by offering gluten-free vodka distilled from apples grown on their fourth-generation, family farm. TREE vodka can be sampled in the tasting room in Williamson, N.Y., just 20 minutes from the popular summer hot spot, Sodas Bay. From the tasting room, visitors have views of the distilling operation including the cider press, aging barrels, and stills. Brief tours are available by appointment.Harvesting Apples for TREE Vodka — Photo courtesy of TREE Vodka/Apple Country Spirits
Black Button Distilling
When Black Button distillery opens in January, 2014, it will be the first in Rochester, N.Y. since Prohibition. The owners encourage visitors to “live large in small batches” with their wheat vodka, citrus gin, corn whiskey (moonshine), and their signature bourbon. In response to consumer demand, at least 75 percent of the ingredients they use will be locally sourced, and a number of local artisan products will be for sale in the tasting room. Tours will be available on select days, and with a location on Railroad Street, the distillery is just a short walk to the Rochester Public Market.Black Button Distillery in Rochester, NY — Photo courtesy of Black Button Distillery's Flask
Just south of Syracuse is Beak and Skiff, an apple orchard with roots that date back to 1911. For more than 30 years, 1911 Spirits have specialized in apple cider and branched out to offer hard cider in 2001. By 2010, they introduced the “1911 Spirits” vodka, and now they’ve have expanded yet again to offer apple-distilled gin made with juniper, coriander and citrus. The best time to visit is during the fall harvest when visitors can pick their own apples and purchase fresh, seasonal products from the country store like cider doughnuts, apple pie, and even New York cheddar cheese. Stop by the new café and tasting room and enjoy the view from the patio area or picnic tables. Menu options include turkey paninis with apples and cheddar, pulled pork with apple coleslaw, and local cheese plates.
Myer Farm Distillers
Dating back to 1868, Myer Farm is one of the largest and oldest operating organic farms in the northeast United States. Nestled between Seneca and Cayuga lakes on the Cayuga wine trail, the farm recently opened a Scottish-style distillery complete with hand-cut and chiseled wall stones. The distillery currently produces 10 different spirits including the new ginger vodka made with butter cream, lemongrass, mint and ginger zest, or the John Myer wheat whiskey, a smoky flavor with hints of fruit and brown sugar, with a butter toffee and black pepper finish. The distillery is open seven days a week (even during winter).Myer Farm Distillery — Photo courtesy of Myer Farm Distillery
Finger Lakes Distilling
One distillery that has already been getting national attention is Finger Lakes Distilling, located on the shores of Seneca Lake. On Saturdays, visitors can tour the facility, try samples of three spirits, and take home the glass for $15 per person. Much of the facility can also be seen from the tasting room, including aging barrels of whiskey, and both of their copper stills. There is a wide selection to try; they produce seven types of whiskeys (five that are cask aged), two types of gin and vodka (including the award-winning Seneca Drums gin), and six types of craft brandy and liqueurs. Take home a bottle from the distillery store, which also sells local artisan food products, a variety of cocktail-related items, and other merchandise.Finger Lakes Distilling — Photo courtesy of Finger Lakes Distilling
Hidden Marsh Distillery
After amassing a collection of awards for fruit and honey wine, in 2008 the Montezuma Winery added a 400-liter Christian Carl column pot that was custom-built in Germany and the Hidden Marsh Distillery was born. They specialize in BEE vodka, and have a long history of beekeepers and honey-infused products, but also offer maple liqueur and corn whiskey. The wine and spirits tasting room is open daily in Seneca Falls.