Sunday, July 25, 2010

Harvest Spirits Revisited - Sunday, July 25th

There is nothing like experiencing a true "welcome sight". For some it is that first glimpse of family or a loved one after an extended time away from them. From others, it's that particular gleam that haunts the eyes upon seeing something that you've always wanted end up in your hands. For others, the birth of a child and watching them grow up all around you. Maybe it's getting home after a long vacation; the promise of snuggling in to a cozy cup of tea and a book. These, for many, are the definition of welcome sights.

They are, however, typically not mine.

Nothing gets me more giddy than this sight:

The art and craft of distillation gets me more riled up than a fox in a chicken coop. Many can attest to the nigh supernatural euphoria that overtakes me upon venturing into either a distillery or place of veritable and distinct distillate wonders. Thus, entering into the world of Harvest Spirits in Valatie, NY is a transcendental, soul changing place for me. Everything in it just makes me feel at home. The fact that it's housed in an old cold-house for apples. The warm wood used everywhere in a variety of ages. The gleaming copper and glistening glass of her pot and rectifying stills. The smooth, cool-white look of the food-grade plastic fermentation tanks. The nooks and crannies filled with bric-a-brack, Mason jars, and fermentation carboys; all a testament to the art of distilling. This, is a welcome sight.

As you may have guessed, a great deal of time Saturday was spent to revisiting Harvest Spirits. As I noted in my Indy Spirits Expo post, Harvest Spirits (spearheaded by Collin McConville) was pouring their wares. I'd been in contact with Collin about some of their forthcoming grappa and when I ran into him there, he...enlightened me on a few other experimental projects they had going. Remember how I said, and I quote, "a special applejack that I will greedily chug like a pig". This was a subtle dig at what they had in store. First, let me show you something.

Above is a picture of their on-site rack-house. When I first went they had, maybe, 8-10 unadorned barrels. Now look at it. They had to be stacked at least 15 feet high and there were more on trellises to the left. They also took the liberty of fancying up the barrel heads. Let me illustrate:

Its funny because he's in stripes and there's a hole in the floor. Also because I'd do the same.
I would like to do "dueling shots" with whatever is in this barrel.
Rip Van Hammered. Or a really drunk garden gnome.
Wait. Monkies? I don'...OH. Barrel of monkies. I gotcha.

But lo, there is one last barrel that I have to show you. Let me emphasize the PIG part of my quote above. Why? Because....

Barreled brilliance.
Yes. Yes it is. That is bacon applejack. No fooling. That barrel head is not a lie. Collin told me at the Indy Spirits Expo about it and I've been frothing at the bit to try it since then. Created by half-loading their pot still with cider and then dumping in raw bacon (using cooked bacon was attempted but according to Collin it "tasted like rotted meat") and then ran the run. He pulled a barrel sample for us (my photographer from the Indy Spirits Expo came along, even though he just mooched and didn't take one damn photo) and we sampled. Here's the sample:

Now, in order to fully do this justice, I have to describe how hot it was out. The outside temperature had to be bordering 95 with 100% humidity. The barn it was in, thanks to the lack of large windows, was cooler but still about 89-90. It was hot. I was hot. Everyone was hot and the huge industrial fan just blew the soggy, swamp-like air around without doing anything. But, even though it was stupid hot made the beverage better. Because of the fact it was barrel proof and the fact that both I and the ambient temperature were so hot...upon drinking the alcohol evaporated almost instantly. Thus, you took a sip of this potent mixture and it instantly turned into an smoky, slightly meaty apple vapor. The nose on it was strong apple and oak from the barrel aging but it hid this deep, murky smoked meat flavor deep within its confines. Upon inhaling this witch's brew, you got straight pork and apples into the lungs and all over the tongue.

It was godlike. That's really all I can say about it. No other words do it justice. If you inhale 55% apple/pork vapor, you'd understand. It's like smelling God's breath.

Unfortunately, there's only one barrel. According to Collin, Project Wilbur (which, despite what they call it on the bottle, I am crossing out with Sharpie and rewriting that on it) isn't suffering too badly from the angel's share but rather heavily from the devil's share: they keep pulling off "test samples" to "reevaluate the project's viability". Which means the bastards are drinking it all before I can get a damn bottle. Hopefully they'll bottle it at cask strength because I think adding water to it will mute the delicate smoke/meat flavors to it. But we'll see.

Another I got to try was their grappa. In Italy, some grappas are made by giving the pomace a boost with sugar water. The Harvest Spirits grappa is washed with apple cider, which gives a delicious duo of faint apple and grape flavors to the final distillate. They want to call it Grapple but due to copyright laws, they can't. I suggest Grapeple. Close enough to get the idea across without them getting sued.

I also got to try Collin's brainchild; a spiced apple port. He pulled some of their fermented cider off of the tanks, added spices, and then halted the fermentation with apple brandy (unaged applejack). The result is, what caused Collin to burst out in a wry smile, pure Christmas. It tastes exactly like a spiced cider but with a significantly higher proof (think 15-20%). It was delicious. I could see it being drank chilled or on the rocks, or as a killer liqueur in drinks. Apparently he's petitioning to see it reach production so if you're thrilled by this idea, I suggest contacting them at

Finally, on the even more exciting, wallet-destroying, alcoholic-fire-stoking front, they're thinking about selling growlers, yes GROWLERS of their cider. Collin was gracious enough to pull some of the cider out of the tanks for us to try and it was quite delicious. We tasted it at about 2-3 days of fermentation so it was still very sweet with a growing carbonation (and an ABV of 2~ish) but it had significant promise. They said that if they were going to sell it they'd sell it as an English scrumpy, which means they'd let the fermentation go as long as possible so they'd end up with a dry, higher ABV cider. A quoted price for a half-gallon growler was $7. I wept fat, beading tears of joy.

So that was our day. After our sojourn to Harvest Spirits, my photographer and I decided to stop and browse at Habana Premium Cigar Shop on Central Ave. Here are pics of their ginormous humidor:

I ended up picking up some pretty interesting stuff including this beauty, the La Aurora 107 Robusto:

 While I won't put a review up of it (I spent its entire lifetime playing chess in which I put up a valiant effort but ultimately lost), I can say it was deliciously spicy and toasty. Kind of like jalapeno pepper jam on buttered toast. Yum.

1 comment:

  1. Love the distillery. It is definitely one of a kind. Amazing products with more still to come. I can hardly wait!

    One note: Derek Grout is actually the owner and head distiller and "spear-header" of all things Harvest Spirits. A wonderfully enthusiastic and talented man, whose father it is that owns and runs the apple farm this distillery is located on.

    I highly suggest a visit to anyone within at least a 50 mile radius.