A Vodka That’s Local to the Core
Tom Crowell and Derek Grout, partners in Harvest Spirits
First, you grow the apples. Then you turn them into cider. Then you take a lot of cider—five gallons more or less—add yeast, put it into a shine-y copper contraption that looks like something out of Willie Wonka, let it ferment, and after a few days of bubble, bubble, toil and trouble, presto! You’ve got yourself a quart of vodka.
If that sounds like an awful lot of bother, then you probably don’t have an awful lot of apples. But Derek Grout does, and it sounded great to him when his friend Tom Crowell suggested it. For three generations, Grout’s family has been growing apples at Golden Harvest Farms (it of the best-on-earth cider donuts—don’t argue, I know my cider donuts).
When Derek, who went to Northfield-Mount Herman and Cornell before launching a career in web design, returned to Columbia County a few years ago to help grow the family business, he didn’t have vodka in mind. Then one day, Crowell brought it up. “My day job is with the Columbia Land Conservancy doing farm land protection work,” Crowell says. “I had seen an article about the French tradition of fruit distillation. It occurred to me that this is another route that Hudson Valley farms could take to expand their businesses and keep farming viable.”
To Grout the idea made perfect sense. “We have plenty of apples and can press them year ‘round,” he says. Soon the friends had become business partners in Harvest Spirits. They took a seminar, viewed demonstrations, bought equipment, applied for a license. And while they were doing all this the farm/distillery phenom in the U.S. was taking off. When they started, in 2005, there were only 50 nationwide. By the time they were up-and-running last April, that number had tripled, though their’s remains the only one in New York State. And presently New York is the only state where it’s legal to buy Core, as their vodka is aptly called.
Though their product is marketed as “distilled in small batches,” they obviously don’t make it a bottle at a time, as described above. But they do cook it up in sufficiently small quantities—starting with 100 gallons of cider—that each bottle merits a small paste-on label with the batch and bottle number handwritten on it. In a world of depressing, mass-produced everything, it’s a heartening and classy touch.
Now the partners are talking about taking their operation green with wind-and-solar power. And there’s even some crazy speculation about combining the methanol that’s a natural by-product of fermentation with the old donut cooking oil to make tractor fuel. Says Grout, “It’s given me the passion to continue farming.”
3074 U.S. Route 9, Valatie; 518.758.7683
Core vodka, available at Golden Harvest Farms, at the address above, also may be purchased at Kinderhook Liquors in the Hannaford shopping plaza in Valatie (pronouced Val-aye-sha, with the accent on the second syllable).