Life on the road
I’m writing this article from the front seat of my camper, from somewhere called “Fort Courage” in Arizona, an old abandoned gas station next to an abandoned Pancake House. The sun is slowly rising; I’ve poured myself a hot tea and put on some soft jazz music on the speaker. The mood is set and it feels a little surreal, in terms of what life can bring and where it can bring you.
On my way to California from Québec, I had to stop at Hollerhorn Distillery to meet the people behind this brand new distillery of upstate New York. The road there was magnificent. It is set in Naples Valley, an area full of organic farms and wineries, the perfect setup for a distillery. I was following their work from the very beginning because these guys seemed like genuine people, and because I was hooked by their clever branding.
Let me just say I was not disappointed. Karl owns the distillery with his wife, they’ve put every penny they have in it and they built it all themselves. You should see the size of the distillery! Building this from the ground up with friends and family is a titans task and the result is breathtaking. They coupled the distillery with a restaurant/bar and a concert venue. Melissa, Karl’s wife, is the chef while also being an artist: she does the drawings for their labels. Karl, whose father’s is an immigrant from Austria, is a musician, sculptor, architect, and altogether a fantastic and authentic human being.
We spent a good deal of the afternoon talking and sharing past experiences while tasting spirits, his and mine. He only does farm to bottle, like their restaurant that is farm to table. He works local grains, local wines and local maple syrup. Speaking of the latter, I was eager to taste it since we now have Acerum (spirit made out of maple syrup) in Quebec, a geographically protected name. He has three kinds, unaged, four months old and six months old. He works his fermentation with a specific kind of yeast to be able to yield esters during distillation. Esters usually come from an acidic fermentation and bring fruity notes to the final spirit. Well, this one is on point. A thick and soft texture that brings soft notes of nuts and wet leaves. The treat is in the mouth; it is mellow and fruity with hints of coconut and mango. And at 50% alcohol rate, it is dangerous because it doesn’t feel like a high proof spirit; it just flows down the throat like water! The four months old has butterscotch flavors while the six months old is slightly woodier. I had the chance to taste his Rye (80% Rye, 20% malted barley) aged in local Solera Sherry casks. This thing is a Sherry bomb, but doesn’t overthrow the spiciness of the Rye, which makes it a perfectly balanced Sherry Rye.
The food is amazing, the spirits are outstanding, the people are genuine and generous, but what really struck me is the strong sense of community that is hard to find anywhere else in the world. It truly is overwhelming. Even though it is a nine hour drive from Montreal, it is worth a visit.