One of the joys of fall in upstate New York is apple picking time. New York is a huge exporter of apples, with a multitude of orchards that offer “pick your own” apples. We’re fortunate we can enjoy an apple picked right off the tree, hot apple cider, apple cider donuts, apple pie, apple…well, you get the idea. What I wasn’t aware of and learned in my travels today, is two things: first, that those same apples can be used to make vodka, brandy, and Applejack, and second, that those spirits were being made right here in New York!
Harvest Spirits is located at a large orchard I’ve stopped at multiple times. For the first time though, I noticed the sign for the distillery, pointing me to the left of the store. My curiosity was piqued!
We entered a cavernous room, filled with equipment, barrels, beautifully-decorated bottles of all shapes and sizes, the tasting area, and the cat, Don Gato!
The barrels where the various alcohols stay for at least 2 years. I was told the barrels are decorated by the owner using a Sharpie, and some are even for sale!
We were met by two very nice gentleman, Miles and Sherwood. Miles was behind the bar overseeing the tastings. He had offered to take us on a tour, but was so busy that Sherwood took us instead. He took us outside, and into the area where the apples are taken to be sorted, pressed and turned into what looked like thick apple sauce, which then got shipped via hose to the distillery equipment we had seen in the previous area.
It takes one and a half bushels of apples to make 1 bottle of Applejack, and this is one bushel! That’s a lot of apples to be used just for 1 bottle of alcohol!
There were 4 men working in the back, getting the apples sorted, washed in multiple baths, pressed and then squirted into trays. One little fact that I found interesting is that bad apples sink and good apples float, making the sorting process much easier!
We also got to meet Cornelius, who has been working at the orchard for 40 years! Now, what is so special about Cornelius you ask? Well, he is the person who the brandy and Applejack has been named after, to honor the years of service he has put into the orchard! He was busy, but was gracious enough to allow me to take a quick picture!
We headed back into the front area, where Sherwood continued to explain the process of getting the juice needed and sorting the different types of alcohols from each other. The chemistry part was above my head. I didn’t understand much, and was glad my husband was taking an active interest by asking what I’m sure were intelligent questions. I just wanted to start tasting!
I had never heard of Applejack before and was curious to try it. I found out it was quite popular back in the day, and now has become a fall favorite. I wasn’t as curious about the vodka and brandy, as I had tried that in the past, and could never get past that “kicked in the chest” feeling I got with every sip. I was game to try every sample, though! The Applejack, neat, was a bit strong for my taste, but I could definitely image mixing it up with something a little sweeter, wrapping myself in a blanket on the couch in front of the fireplace, and enjoying my fall beverage.
I told Miles about my hesitation with the vodka. He told me he had just the thing, and rather than giving me a taste of the Core Vodka that was on the counter, pulled out a chilled bottle and poured my sample. I was pleasantly surprised with its smoothness! I could see myself drinking that on the rocks. Now I knew what a great tasting vodka was like! The brandy was all smooth, and the Cornelius Peach (yes, they also grow peaches and pears, and use those in their offerings as well) was my favorite. A bottle of that got to come home with me, and a plan formed my head to reduce it, and pour it over ice cream with peaches!
Even though I’m not much for straight whiskey, I was definitely happy to learn this distillery exists and produces such a great product in the Hudson Valley!