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Review

Half Moon Orchard Gin

Distillery

Tuthilltown Spirits LLC, Gardiner, Ulster County, New York, USA.

Website

Tuthilltown Spirits.

History

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.

Their Half Moon Orchard Gin was devised by Joel Elder and launched in 2012. There are plans to produce other Gins using different blends of grains and fruits, and different botanicals, in the near future. We understand Joel has been working on another wheat grain base Gin and vapor infusing lavender and cubeb pepper, to evoke the smell and taste of a wheat field in summer. Let’s hope this makes its way through to a saleable product because we would love to try it.

Production

There are many Gins made with a wheat grain base spirit and a few Gins made from a base spirit of cider (apples). Tuthilltown Spirits were the first (we believe) to make a base spirit for a Gin from a blend - 80% wheat (made for Tuthilltown by another distillery in The Finger Lakes) and 20% apples (from the Hudson Valley and made by Tuthilltown). Rather than the usual  “neutral” base spirit used by most Gins this is referred to as a “near neutral” base and comes from ingredients all grown in New York.

The botanicals (not all from New York but we understand they are all from the USA) are steeped in this near neutral base spirit prior to distilling. The distillation process is based on classic London Dry methodology, helping to gently assert the juniper flavor above the base spirit.

There is a very faint silvery blue tint to this Gin, due to a little cloudiness. We understand Tuthilltown have considered (and maybe still are considering) chill filtering it to remove this coloration. It is accepted the marketplace expects a crystal clear Gin but chill filtering does take a little of the flavor out of the Gin and we like the artisanal feel the coloration gives to this spirit. All said and done, we are not the ones selling the product but we would like to think this Gin speaks for itself and hope Tuthilltown are able to withstand the commercial pressure to filter it – a tough decision for anyone to make.

The Gin is presented in a tall clear cylindrical 1-liter bottle with rounded shoulders and a short neck. The bottle is screen-printed and follows a nautical theme; the front has a large brown colored centerpiece with an anchor at the top plus black colored text clearing announcing “Half Moon Orchard Gin” – there is also space for the handwritten batch and bottle number at the bottom; On the back of the bottle is a very elaborate and large black colored image of the “Half Moon” sailing vessel (see “Name” below).

Category

New Western Dry Gin.

Alcohol By Volume (ABV)

46% (92 Proof).

Price Range

$$$. Predominantly available in New York State, it can be found online at: Arlington Wine & Liquer, Empire Wine, Astor Wines, Drink Up NY or Mora’s Fine Wine & Spirits.

Botanicals

Uses 8 botanicals including: almond, cardamom, coriander, bergamot peel, elderberry, juniper berries, lemon peel and orange peel (bitter).

Fresh bergamot peel is used: the fruit is bought when in season and zested. The zest is pickled in 55% alcohol to preserve it, until it is required for each batch of Gin.

Name

In 1609 Englishman Henry Hudson was commissioned by the Dutch to find a Northwest passage to China. This was his 3rd of 4 such sailing expeditions he undertook (the other 3 were commissioned by the English). He set sail from Amsterdam (Holland) in a vessel called the Half Moon (Halve Maen, in Dutch) and eventually discovered a River around New York (originally called New Amsterdam) which he thought might provide a route to the Far East. This was to become known as the Hudson River, named in honor of Henry Hudson – as is the Hudson Bay in Canada, from his 4th voyage in 1610-11.

The Gin is named after this vessel Henry Hudson sailed in when he discovered the Hudson River. The flavor and smell of the Gin, with its 20% apple based spirit, is made to be reminiscent of an orchard and thus the name: Half Moon Orchard.

Tasting Notes

On the nose are apple, juniper, earl grey tea (bergamot) and citrus with a hint of spice. On the palate this medium to full-bodied smooth, rounded and semi-sweet spirit has earthy juniper, spice (cardamom), lightly sweet fruit (elderberry & red apple) and pastry (wheat) with wavering hints of citrus (lemon & orange) and floral (bergamot) notes which battle (play fight) with the juniper. On the close is a subtle sweetness (usually found in other Gins by using liquorice) from the apple base and elderberry with flurries of citrus and spice plus an alcoholic tingle on the very long persistent dry finish. This is an excellently balanced Gin with complexities teetering close to the edge, never underwhelming or overwhelming.

A superb example of the New Western Dry Gin style. This is an easy sipping drink and is one of the most delightful Gins we have ever tasted neat - room temperature seems best and is also worth trying with a citrus slice and/or ice. Although some of the nuances are lost it is still wonderful in a Gin & Tonic, with the silvery blue cloudy tint more noticeable. It makes a great Martini with either a citrus twist or olives as garnish, but we like it even better in a Dirty Martini. It has great versatility, perhaps better in light citrus mixed drinks and certainly it can be used to make a fine Aviation. Traditional Gin drinkers who like a good sized “bite” of juniper may be put off by this description but should put this prejudice aside and simply try it, be prepared for a surprise! This is a drink for both non-Gin and Gin drinkers alike. We often find Gins, which try to please everybody, only succeed in being suitable for one group of people - this one really has the potential to be a Gin for everyone.

The blended base spirit certainly brings something to the party we have not found before, creating a spirit with a mouth feel more drinkable compared with other Gins (who use the traditionally expected neutral grain spirit base). Tuthilltown Spirits and Joel Elder have really excelled with this one and have added to their continuing stable of truly excellent products. This certainly makes our top 50 list, perhaps even our top 20, and is very highly recommended. The good news is they hope to add more Gin examples (with different ingredients and blends) in the future – we really can’t wait!

Awards & Accolades

93 Points, Beverage Testing Institute.

89 Points, Wine Enthusiast.



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