Real ‘Field to Glass’ at Harvest Spirits

Originally Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2013


Truth or dare? Make your community your supermarket! Dare I say demand local spirits where you eat and drink as your only food choices even when big business begs you to pay attention to their billboards.


You will know what you consume, where and how it is made, by whom, support a real agrarian America and participate in the economic development of our community.


Truth is drinking responsibly takes on a whole new meaning when we talk about “field to glass” spirits. At Harvest Spirits even the fallen fruit brings value and becomes favored in the art of distilling liquor. Imagine that the waste from an orchard can become the “heart” of the alcohol producing premium spirits like Core Vodka or Cornelius Peach Applejack. Both made from Hudson Valley fruit grown on the family farm at Golden Harvest Farms in Valatie.


The Grout family has been in residence on the farm since they bought 45 acres in the 1950s. Alan Grout and Jayne Zinke took over the farm in 1974 when their son Derek was just 2 years old. He was one of five boys and realized early on that “farming is not like normal business, it’s personal being father and son and in business is not always simple.”


So when Derek returned to the farm to avoid being another mouth to feed and with desire to generate additional income, he found an attractive and lucrative start up in his idea for Harvest Spirits to launch the Core Vodka brand. Distilling fruit to vodka was the big idea of Tom Crowell, owner of Chatham Brewing Company and partner of Grout at the time. Grout ran with the brilliant idea by attending a distilling conference in New Hampshire sponsored by the still manufacturers who also built the beauty in the distillery today.


“All of a sudden the waste at the farm became the most expensive product we produce. By ‘processing’ fruit that becomes alcohol in a barrel — every year it becomes more valuable.” I learned from Grout.


The concept that started in 2005 finally became Harvest Spirits’ first product in May 2008 — Core Vodka, and was made from Hudson Valley apples. Unlike wine, the spirit business, Grout explained, “Never goes bad and is incredibly durable. We take fruit that is inherently unstable and change it into a stable and valued product with an infinite shelf life.”


Lacking “know how” about the liquor industry, Grout’s blind faith and entrepreneurial spirit compensated. That combined with the availability of fruit, lent answers. Add the CORE brand name (meaning the core or “heart” of the alcohol and double entendre of an apple core), a gorgeous bottle elegantly screen printed with “less is more” philosophy to market CORE, hand-filled, hand numbered bottles filled from small batches all made at the distillery and tasting room on site of his family farm. This was the beginning of an innovative, self-sustaining and viable agriculture start-up — and also brought more business to the farm.


Diversification is the name of the game in food production, so in December 2009, the Applejack formula was perfected by putting the excess “heart” of the liquor into new whiskey barrels for aging, diluted with locally filtered well water (coming off the still at 95 percent alcohol purity) to yield an 80 proof product. The Applejack had such a superior flavor and low barriers to entry with only one other brand in the category (found in the well rack) people aren’t even familiar with the lackluster product we have known for a century that popularized the name.


Mindful of reinvention, Applejack offers the “taste” of apple, an aroma for the nose. Grout’s wife Ashley Hartka, said enthusiastically, “Smells like apples, tastes like whiskey, but a lot smoother than regular whiskey.” From this venture Peach Applejack was born. With a surplus of applejack “over baked” and mealy peaches at the farm — the two were soaked together for two years and the result was sweeter, a peach infused applejack lower in alcohol and loaded with smooth goodness.


With Grout’s practice of “fresh, no concentrate and no artificial ingredients” Harvest Spirits differentiates in category given competitors’ flavored vodka profiles and its commitment to drinking responsibly.


In 2012 Core Black Raspberry Vodka was created. Black raspberries are four times as expensive as their red cousin, smaller and harder to find. As they grow plentifully on the farm, Core Vodka was well matched with the freshest black raspberries grown. And the result? A move over Cosmopolitan flavor explosion! You will never drink fake flavored vodka again!


I asked what Grout loves about this business? He answered passionately about his work. “The quiet in the morning at the distillery as if gnomes were working overnight. The smell in the room, the fermenting, aging and oak keep the room pulsing with possibility. When I open or taste a barrel and it is finished and ready to bottle — it’s perfect. It doesn’t always happen, sometimes you work a lot and it’s not perfect.” Not unlike the practice on most hard-working farms where so much control is out of the farmer’s hands.


Buy Harvest Spirits products in New York state from Niagara to Montauk. They focus on sustaining profitability by serving New York City and Brooklyn liquor stores, bars, hotels and caterers. Since every state controls its own liquor laws, Grout is in search of expansion for distribution in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey. You can also buy the full line of farm products online at Locally in Hudson, ask any restaurant for Core by name — it has become so popular! Bottles range in price from $23 to $45.


Fans who visit the distillery near the town of Kinderhook at Golden Harvest Farms are “amazed by the production,” I’m told. Tours and tastings are available at the distillery Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. In season you can pick your own fruit at the farm, indulge in cider donuts and drink sweet apple cider.


If you are lucky, Derek the “singing tractor driver” will give you a tour of the orchards!


With Golden Harvest Farms’ apples (a la apple pie) feeding President Obama at the inauguration ceremony dinner and sweet apple cider in the bloodline, what’s next for Harvest Spirits? Hard cider made from the apples they grow and those they carry from growers around the state. They are assembling their know-how and developing the product by working with a yeast specialist and Adirondack Brewing Company out of Lake George to utilize the downtime at the distillery and take advantage of new state policies surrounding hard cider.


And if Applejack becomes a popular cocktail of choice like bourbon, the resources are abundant in our rich Hudson River Valley to sustain production. I’ll drink to that! Join me and FarmOn!


Copyright © 2013 Columbia-Greene Media