Jul 15, 2018
Not all distilleries can boast that their spirits are crafted from local grain and fruit and aged on-site, “farm to cask,” in their own handmade barrels.
Not all distilleries can boast that their spirits are crafted from local grain and fruit and aged on-site, “farm to cask,” in their own handmade barrels. But Olde York Farm’s Distillery & Cooperage quite serendipitously offers spirits all distilled in micro-batches from Hudson Valley-grown grain and fruit in the historic Jacob Rutsen van Rensselaer House & Mill complex along the Claverack Creek in Columbia County. Van Rensselaer was an American lawyer and Federalist politician who served as the Speaker of the New York Assembly 1812-1813, and then later Secretary of State of New York 1813-1815. The site, Rensselaer’s former carriage house, now restored as the distillery and a tasting room, is a nod back in time to when Rensselaer ran his own distillery right up the road at Buttermilk Falls, and a cooperage across the street at the Red Mills, circa 1805. It can be found on the National Register of Historic Places. Olde York Farm sources American White Oak for their barrels from throughout New York State. On weekends, the tasting room is open serving cocktails, local beer, wine and cider. Tours of the distillery and cooperage are also available. An Airbnb operates out of the site that sleeps up to six people.
Olde York owner and longtime carpenter Stuart Newsome decided that barrel-making was a form of deep commitment to the distillation process, and began crafting barrels in which to age the spirits. Barrels are handmade on-site in which they age their bourbon, whiskey, and brandy. Newsome offers barrel workshops that combine old-world techniques with the luxuries of modern equipment. Newsome’s wife Louise serves as the Promotions Manager, and daughter, Sophie, works as the Operations Manager. Louise is active in the distillery world; serving as the Vice President of the Women Distillery’s Guild and on the board of the New York State Distillers Guild. Rory Tice is the Head Distiller, along with Stuart, and is the distillery’s wholesale manager as well—well served by a background in public relations and communications.
The distillery spirits’ menu ranges from nostalgic to contemporary: Rhubarb & Honey Vodka, Wild Violet Liqueur, Lilac Liqueur, Finocchietto Bronzato Liqueur, Smoked Maple Bourbon, Cacao Maple Vodka, Ramp Vodka, Barrel Aged Cacao Maple Vodka, Mulled Peach Whiskey, Buddha's Hand Citron Vodka, Roasted Black Walnut Liqueur and Diamond Street Vodka. And with a wink to the history of Rensselaer's distillery, Olde York recreates a traditional Apple Brandy that Rensselaer once brewed.
In 2015, Olde York came to HVADC in need of help interpreting the layers of New York State Department of Agriculture & Market (Ag & Markets) laws, Agricultural District laws and permitting issues for farm distilleries, and to provide guidance on how best to navigate them. Sophie explained that HVADC put them in touch with the right people at Ag & Markets, as well as setting them up with a business planner, Brian Zweig, owner of Business Opportunities Management Counseling and longtime HVADC consultant. “[Zweig] helped us with fine tuning our business plan and helping us with our financial projections,” said Sophie. “His help allowed us to apply for a loan with Columbia Economic Development Corporation.”
“My dad, Stuart, has always had a passion for the history of distilling in America and a fascination with fermentation,” said Sophie. “This is what first sparked the idea of having a distillery and turning the hobby into an actual business. Over the years of researching how to have a distillery in New York, the laws have changed drastically, and farm distilleries were introduced. For the first time my dream seemed actually attainable with lower licensing fees and smaller scale production. I also gravitated towards the idea of supporting local farms and the community.”
“Stuart, Louise, Sophie and [head distiller] Rory [Tice] brought great experience to the distillery they planned to open,” said Zweig. “Stuart had experience as a carpenter and barrel maker, Louise had great sales experience, and Sophie and Rory had experience in customer service. They also had an attractive location for their business. I helped them fine tune and articulate their vision for the business in their business plan. I also worked with them to develop financial projections, in particular providing feedback to create projections that were realistic and achievable.”
Sophie explained that her father, Stuart, is a master carpenter who was classically trained at the age of 16 in London with an apprenticeship with the National Trust. “Having a cooperage combined both of his passions and expertise,” she said. “Teaching himself how to build a barrel was the most difficult challenge he has ever faced. He was lucky enough to find out that the last cooper in England—Alastair Simms-- is from his hometown of Bradford England at White Rose Cooperage. He was able to meet with Simms to help fine-tune some of his techniques and answer some of his questions.”
“It is extremely rewarding to support a wide variety of local farms,” said Sophie. “We support a different side of farming that many distilleries don't, by sourcing fruit, herbs, and other botanicals to flavor our spirits. Other than a loan from Columbia Economic Development Corporation we don't have investors. So, growing organically can have its challenge as far as having big ideas but having to be patient and implement them one step at a time.”
To learn more about how HVADC can help assess your business’ needs and connect you with the help you may need, visit www.hvadc.org/. To learn more about Olde York Distillery, please visit https://oldeyorkfarm.com
Photo Source: Olde York Farm