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D i s t i l l i n g A u t h e n t i c i t y 2 Prohibition is over! —Tuthilltown slogan, written on shipping boxes and t-shirts Nick is a college student at SUNY New Paltz, near the Tuthilltown distillery. When he moved to the area for school, his uncle, Ralph, a co-owner, asked him if he wanted a job. Nearly three years later, Nick has done just about every task at the distillery, but mainly he does bottling and maintains the database . His schedule varies throughout the year to accommodate school. On my first day working at Tuthilltown Nick picks me up from the bus station in a white SUV. The inside’s a mess. A spare battery and set of jumper cables sit on the backseat, in case it needs a jump. We pick up breakfast for the guys from a deli and head to the distillery in the rural town of Gardiner. Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery formally began in 2005, making it New York State’s first licensed whiskey distillery since national Prohibition, a gap of eighty years. The facilities largely consist of two historic mill granaries that date from 1788 and have been retrofitted for light manufacturing. One is a combined store, visitor center, and rickhouse.* The other holds the action. On the first floor is a simple electric mill for grinding grain, a cooking tank for making the mash, and several 200-gallon, open-top plastic fermenters, which look like tiny topless silos, for holding the products.† Cloth sheets loosely * A rickhouse is a warehouse for storing barrels. Aging spirits is a complex practice. A barrel’s wood variety, sawn nature, size, and char and/or toast levels (that is, how much it is burned and/or toasted on the inside), its location in the rickhouse (bottom, middle, or upper floors), and external conditions (that is, outside temperature and moisture levels in the air) all influence how a spirit ages, and thereby how it will taste. I will discuss more about distillation and aging throughout this chapter. † Tuthilltown makes 400 gallons of mash per batch, which they split between two fermenters. D i s t i l l i n g A u t h e n t i c i t y ‹ 51 › cover the openings to keep dust and debris from falling in. Paper forms taped to their sides list the exact contents and date of fermentation. Inside the tanks some products actively bubble like soda as the yeast breaks down the sugars in the mash and turn it alcoholic, while others are fairly dormant, with an occasional bubble, which indicates the yeast is about done.* The room smells like a rich sour corn mixed with baked bread. Once fermenting is complete, pumps hooked up to the fermenters push the product up through a pipe leading to the stills on the second floor, where the actual distillation—the act of purifying a liquid through heating and cooling—happens. Tuthilltown has two custom-made copper and stainless steel pot stills, made by the German company Christian Carl, which look like old-fashioned submersibles and make up one end of the large room with a barreled ceiling. A small tasting area and office at the top of the stairs divide the floor. Next to them are double-doors leading to the outside for forklifts to * Fermentation takes about five days. Figure 4. The converted granary building with Tuthilltown’s main operation. Photo by the author. ‹ 52 › c h A p t e r 2 move pallets of freshly filled barrels to the rickhouse for storage. At the other end of the floor are the bottling and shipping stations and a storage area. After I put on the “uniform” (a brown t-shirt with “Distilleryman” written across the chest), Nick brings me over to the bottling station. First he shows me how to blow the dust and debris from the packaging out of each bottle by using a machine that shoots compressed air. Nick grabs two squat 375-milliliter bottles, holds them facedown, and lowers them over the upturned nozzles. He steps down on a pedal and the air makes a sharp, piercing sound. He removes them and puts them down on the counter. “Now you try,” he tells me. I take two bottles and mimic Nick, but my foot lacks his light touch, and I end up shooting a lot of unnecessary air and making a loud...


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