By Jamie Larson
Above the Hudson Wine Merchants,
co-owner Marianne Courville stands behind a heavy farmhouse table topped with an assortment of bottles and jars, a serious mortar and pestle beside her, and a container of juniper berries and vinegar. She pours a splash of recently brewed pear, honey and ginger mixture called a shrub into a glass of seltzer. After that revelation is sipped, she offers a thimbleful of her hand-crafted ginger bitters.
Strong, flavorful, clean and correct, her new brand of regionally sourced bitters and shrubs, The Hudson Standard
, is set to officially launch in the spring, and each offering tastes like the beginning of something big.
“Isn’t that nice?" Courville says, with a knowing smile. “We want our flavors to be as pure as possible, but there’s a complexity to it when you use such good ingredients."
But let’s back up. Any barfly knows the versatile bite of bitters, whether the paper-wrapped standby or a trendy new infusion, but shrubs? Dating back to American Colonial times, a shrub is a blend of vinegar, fruit, herbs and a sweetener. The Hudson Standard’s shrub makes for an ethereal and versatile mixer for cocktails and stands alone boldly in seltzer as a sophisticated non-alcoholic beverage with significantly less sugar than soda.
“A lot of bars are making their own shrubs right now," Courville says. “I tend to go for a little more vinegar flavor in ours. It’s really great with gin but without alcohol it’s a very adult soda. I’ve gotten so much positive feedback from pregnant women who can't drink but still want to have something sophisticated."
The Hudson Standard debuted late last year at Basilica Hudson’s Farm and Flea
event, and sold small amounts at Olde Hudson
. Everything sold out quickly and received nothing but raves. Ironically, due to the capriciousness of New York’s alcohol distribution laws, Hudson Wine Merchants can’t sell The Hudson Standard bitters (around $22 per 100 ml. bottle) or the shrub (around $14 per 250 ml. bottle) but they’ll be more than happy to tell you all about it and how to get your eager hands on it. Courville says she's aiming for a release date in May, when her concoctions will once again be available at Olde Hudson, Rubiners and online at thehudsonstandard.com
. She's currently scouting for more shops that want to sell the brand and intends on visiting farmers' markets throughout the season.
This first year, with greatly appreciated business assistance from the Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation, and a Kickstarter coming soon, Courville anticipates they'll be able to deliver 4,000 to 5,000 bottles total, staggered throughout the summer as the ingredients come in from local farms.
With everything sourced as close to home as possible, the first full line of The Hudson Standard’s offerings will be dictated by the seasons. While that is in part a function of still being in development mode, it’s also how Courville and her partners, husband Michael Albin and journalist Michael Maness, want it.
For the roll-out in the spring, she’s planning a spruce or pine shoot bitters, with the ginger bitters and pear-honey-ginger shrub available, as well. Next will be a strawberry-rhubarb shrub with the potential for an apple and maple syrup shrub in the fall.
“We want to be a complement to all the great distilleries that have been popping up all around us," Courville says, noting how well the shrub goes with Harvest Spirits
It’s evident from the way Courville talks about her creations, and the infusion jars all over the spacious test kitchen (in Hudson Wine Merchants' elegant third-floor tasting room and gallery), that this not just a serious business venture but also a whole lot of fun for her and her two friends, Dan Scarnecchia and Dave Paynter -- who are helping with research and development just for the thrill of it.
Courville loves meeting farmers and thinking up new flavor combinations for a new batch. Behind a curtain, she has shelves of jars where she’s testing everything from a surprisingly soothing juniper and rose hip bitters to a curry leaf bitters that is the darkest and most mesmerizing shade of green one can imagine but admittedly needs some tweaking before the flavor is right.
“It needs a little sweetness to bring out the curry flavor I think, and, actually, I was thinking a pinch of salt," Courville says. “I’m excited about this one."
Courville’s enthusiasm for the process of making shrubs and bitters, from the farm to the bottle, foretells that this is the seed of a future local legacy. And, as if we didn't already yearn for spring, The Hudson Standard's debut will have us crossing off the days until shrub season is here.
The Root and Branch by Darren Norris
1¾ oz. Ransom Gin
¾ oz. Hudson Standard Pear Honey Ginger Shrub
¼ oz. Dolin Dry Vermouth
2 dashes Orange Bitters
Shake vigorously over ice, then pour into a chilled coupe. Serve with a lemon twist.
Hudson Wine Merchants
341-1/2 Warren Street, Hudson
Restaurant URL: Marianne Courville of Hudson Wine Merchants, Hudson, NY, creates a new brand of bitters and shrubs, The Hudson Standard.