Tuthilltown Spirits LLC, Gardiner, Ulster County, New York, USA.
New Yorker Ralph
Erenzo is a (former) professional climber and entrepreneur. He established “The
Vertical Climbing Center”, a gymnasium with a 2,700-square-foot climbing wall,
based on Broadway in New York City – found at 1 West 62 Street, New York, NY
(Tel: 212-586-5718). Ralph was seeking to take the business further by setting
up a base ranch for people wishing to climb the Shawangunk Mountains (commonly
referred to as the “Gunks”) in New York. With Vicki Morgan in 2001 he found and
bought Tuthilltown Grist Mill, an 18th century operational flourmill
(listed on the National Register of Historic Places), with a seemingly ideal
30+ acres, 2 homes and 5 barns. Finally he had realized one of his lifelong dreams
of living in the Hudson Valley, about 75 miles north of Manhattan.
Business, like life, does not always run to plan and the Grist Mill land needed variances agreed upon to change its agricultural zoning to commercial usage. Unfortunately existing residents did not approve of these planned changes and blocked the application for the variances. After several years pursuing legal battles, Ralph finally had to accept his plans for a climbing ranch at the Mill would not work. Like any good businessperson, when faced with one closed door, he begun to look at what else he could do by finding different doors he could potentially open.
Whilst researching agricultural activities he could undertake, in 2003 Ralph came across the then newly created Farm Distillery Act. Before the Volstead Act of 1920 enforced a Prohibition on alcohol there had been over 1,000 farm distilleries in New York, making alcohol from locally farmed fruits and grains. This new Act, 90 years after Prohibition ended, finally permitted New York farms to once again establish distilleries on site and sell their agricultural spirits at the farm.
With a seed of an idea, Ralph met Brian Lee who was interested in taking over the Grist Mill. George Smith, the Miller at this time was due to retire and Brian was thinking this would make a good retirement project for himself. With a background in Audio Engineering, Brian set about learning the ropes of Milling and came to the conclusion perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea for his retirement. Ralph and Brian then started discussing the possibility of a distillery and suddenly everything begun to take shape. Brian put up the money to build the distillery and thus in 2003 Tuthilltown Spirits LLC was born.
There was plenty of work to do, including the building of the distillery and learning how to distill, before having products for sale. Finally launched in 2004, Tuthilltown Distillery became the first legal distiller of aged grain spirits in New York since Prohibition. All their products are handmade in small batches without any added flavoring or coloring and use New York ingredients wherever possible.
Today Tuthilltown Spirits produce a range of well-known and liked Whiskey (the intellectual rights were successfully sold to William Grant & Sons in 2010) and several other spirits. They have been joined by excellent Chief Distiller Joel Elder, plus Ralph’s son Gable works as a brand ambassador, and they are building sustainable “green” practices (including the use of solar energy). This sounds like plain sailing but there was one “hiccup”: An explosion and fire in the distillery during the fall of 2012 delayed operations for nearly 2 months, and has led to a review of working practices which they have shared within the industry as best practice advice.