It’s a Whiskey Rebellion and it all Started on a Humble Apple Farm in Hudson Valley

Hudson Valley Whiskey Rebellion

In 2003 Derek Grout, a former graphic designer in Boston, returned to the 200-acre apple farm that he had grown up on, Golden Harvest Farms. Golden Harvest Farms was born in the 1950s by Grout’s grandparents who moved from Queens to Valatie where they bought the farm and learned apple farming. When Derek returned to the farm he started looking for something to add value to the family heritage of farming. In 2005, after taking a distilling course, he learned he could make vodka from apples. Distilling was the perfect opportunity to convert surplus apples into a value-added product that was “shelf staple.” The only hitch to Derek’s plan was that, at the time, New York State only allowed licensing for micro-distilleries and brandy.

Derek went to Albany and relentlessly lobbied to get Class D licensing for farm distilleries, which was enacted in 2007 and he obtained the first license. He founded Harvest Spirits LLC in 2008, which became New York’s first farm distillery (now there are more than 50 operating in New York). It is independently owned, operated and distributed by Derek Grout. Its first product in 2008 was Core Vodka, a neutral vodka made from the hard cider of the farm’s apples; pear brandy and applejack were the next products to be made. At the time applejack, an apple brandy that has been made in America since the 1700s, was dominated by Lairds in New Jersey. Harvest Spirits came out with New York’s first applejack, Cornelius applejack, made with 100 percent New York state apples and aged in premium bourbon barrels. The applejack, which was named after the guy who presses the cider at the farm Cornelius Murray, has earned a double gold medal at a World Spirits Competition.

Currently Harvest Spirits is producing ten products including an aged pear brandy and cherry and peach applejack that is made with fresh fruit and is gluten free with no additives. Core Vodka, hand-crafted with the farm’s own apples, cold pressed and distilled three times, is its best seller Staying true to his family’s heritage, Derek only uses pears, cherries and peaches that are grown on local farms. He is branching out and becoming more creative with a new black raspberry vodka that is made from apples and a 100 percent apple-based London dry gin expected to be released by Christmas. These are products exclusively made in the Hudson Valley.
Derek, in partnership with a local brewery, has spent the last two years working to make a malt whiskey that is as close to the Scottish style as possible, but adding a local twist by smoking the whiskey with applewood. He explains, “For part of the process the whiskey is aged in applejack barrels so it picks up a slight fruitiness; because we are using brandy stills there’s a slightly more refined taste. It’s a whiskey that tastes like our brand, like our farm.” It is a single malt whiskey that has also been named after one of his workers. The John Henry Single Malt Whiskey, released in February, has quickly sold out of it first batch; the second batch is on its way.

This distillery is located behind Golden Harvest Farm’s roadside stand that houses an old-fashioned cider press from which apples are pressed weekly for fresh cider for the stand and for fermentation and distillation in the farm distillery. It is a fascinating place to visit, “a one-of-a-kind homegrown eclectic mix where farm meets high class spirits in a working environment and where copper, steel and wood sit comfortably together.”

On the aging barrels is incredible artwork that decorates the used barrel heads. Made with a Sharpie and a blowtorch, the artwork on each barrel head tells a story – one even includes a New Yorker cartoon. Two of the barrels bear the names, footprints and birth dates of Grout’s sons. “No matter what happens to the business,” says Derek. “For generations my sons will have these barrels as a lasting consumable product that was made when they were born. Imagine, wouldn’t it be great to have some of your grandfather’s whiskey that was made by your great-grandfather when your grandfather was born. It’s a tangible strand of history.”

Derek and his wife, Ashley, love to have Hudson Valley visitors tour the distillery. Distillery tours, tastings and sales are offered on weekends from 12 – 5 p.m. Harvest Spirits is located behind Golden Harvest Farms at 3074 Route 9, Valatie, New York. Products can also be ordered online through Harvest Spirits’ website at www.harvestspirits/shop¬_online.

This is the first Whiskey Rebellion story in a three-part series about the best high-end distilleries in the Hudson Valley.

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Margaret was public relations director for two luxury New York City hotels, where she did extensive research into America’s culinary heritage. She is a founding member of The James Beard Foundation; formerly, owner of a Jersey Shore inn and restaurant, The Pelican Bistro, recognized as one of the 10 Best New Restaurants in NJ by New Jersey Monthly, and a PR consultant to restaurateurs. For the past several years she has been a contributing writer about food, drink and restaurant news for many publications. She is a passionate cook and wine lover who moved to the Hudson Valley and is in awe of the immense wealth of agricultural, artisanal and culinary talent in the area. Connect with her at www.TastefulLiving.net, Hudson Valley Wine & Restaurant Examiner and Shore Region Food & Restaurant Examiner. She can be reached at mmorgan531@gmail.com.

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