Sunday, November 27, 2022

Local whiskey makers multiply

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor

Local craft beer brewing is booming, wine-making is on the grow, and now one distillery has opened and two more are in the works. Here’s an overview.

 

Lake George Distillery in Fort Ann, ‘thriving’

 


John and Robin McDougall of Queensbury say the smartest — if accidental — thing they did when they opened the Lake George Distilling Company on Route 149 in Fort Ann last September was the sign.

“Moonshine,” it says, in crooked letters. They say it’s a car-stopper.

John and Robin McDougall opened Lake George Distilling Co. in September.
John and Robin McDougall opened Lake George Distilling Co. in September.

The McDougalls opened the distillery and retail store in a former construction garage and pizza place. They’d thought to build in Lake George, where they have a long-time family summer place on Harris Bay. Then they found Fort Ann.

“The building was made to order,” John says now, and “I can’t say enough about how great Washington County and Fort Ann have been to us.”

Being on heavily traveled Route 149 was an unexpected boon, Robin says.

They kept Lake George for their name, however. “It doesn’t matter where you go, people know Lake George. It’s like flies to sugar,” John says.

Their products include Bullhead Bourbon — “we can’t keep it on the shelves,” John says. “It’s very good. But it takes time in the barrel, four or five months, to age.”

An Apple Pie Moonshine, spiced and made with “100 percent New York State apple cider,” touts Robin, is “very popular.” For the summer, they just introduced a new Lake George Lemonade Moonshine.

Robin says the 32 Mile Moonshine — named for the length of Lake George — is a big seller, in part because it’s the quickest to produce. The Bourbon and Apple Pie Moonshine were their best sellers heading into the summer; Robin predicts the Lemonade

Moonshine will be a summer hit. “It’s really good.”

The McDougalls won a silver medal at the New York International Spirits Competition for their Indian Kettle Smoked Corn Whiskey.

John hickory-smokes the corn himself. Their Red Rock Rye, still aging in barrels, should be ready in the fall.

John says he likes the bourbon, straight. Robin says, “I’m waiting for the rye, but I also like the 32 Mile Moonshine, with ginger ale and a squeeze of lime.”

 

Started as a home brewer

 

The McDougalls, in their early 50s, both worked for telecommunications businesses. Robin said she was laid off just months before being eligible for her pension.

“We decided we weren’t going to rely on anyone else, we would rely on us,” she said, by starting their own business.

John says, “I made a little beer and wine at home, and this seemed like the next logical step” — making distilled spirits.

Unlike beer and wine, it’s illegal to make whiskey or other spirits at home, though.

“I saw a show on distilleries and I thought, that would be cool,” John says. “I did a lot of research on the Internet,” took classes at conferences held by the American Distilling Institute, and learned by visiting small distilleries, including Harvest Sprits in Ravena.

“Lake George is one of 39 operating distilleries in New York,” John notes, a growing part of the state’s locally crafted beverage movement.

By license, 75 percent of Lake George Distilling’s corn must come from New York sources. “It’s what we want to do anyway,” John says. “We get a ton every other week, from Ellsworth Family Farm in Greenwich. The still, the bottles, everything we could, is made in the U.S.A., and as close as you can get it.”

Besides their storefront ons Route 149, “as a farm distillery, we can sell at farmers’ markets and non-profit craft fairs,

John notes. They sell at the Glens Falls, Bolton and Saratoga farmers’ markets.

Also, says John, “Between restaurants and liquor stores, we have 15 to 20 distributors right now. We’re trying to grow at a rate we can keep up with. We produce roughly 300 bottles a week. We’d like to hit 1,000 cases this year.”

They get a lot of drive-by business “especially with the leaf seekers,” Robin says. “After Columbus Day it slowed to nothing, but then we had Thanksgiving, and a great Christmas, which turned into skiers’ season, people going to Killington. We think this summer will pick right back up.”

John said they planned conservatively, “and so far we’ve met projections, and then some.”

He gets most enthusiastic talking about the science of the distilling, pulling “heads, hearts and tails” from the still — the middle-stream product or “hearts” being the most flavorful, heads and tails sent back into the still for further processing, manipulating alcohol content and flavors through the distilling and aging process.

Everything gets turned back into the process. “This is an almost zero waste facility,” John notes. “What’s left from the process, the spent grains, it has no alcohol content. It goes to a local farmer to feed the cows.”

John suggests, “Craft distilleries are where beer brewers were 15 years ago. If you’re in this to make $17-million in Fort Ann, it’s not going to work. But we’re small. We’ve tried to do it within our means, and it’s working out.”

 

4 friends’ project: Springbrook Hollow aims to open in Aug.

 

Meanwhile, also in Fort Ann, on the edge of Queensbury, a two-generation quartet of friends prepares to open Springbrook Hollow Farm Distillery, likely in August.

Tony DeSantis, Ken Rohne, Mike Forcier and Dave Bannon, aim to open Springbrook Hollow Farm Distillery in August.
Tony DeSantis, Ken Rohne, Mike Forcier and Dave Bannon, aim to open Springbrook Hollow Farm Distillery in August.

The partners are Tony DeSantis, 26, and Mike Forcier, 27; David Bannon, “in my 60s”; and Ken Rohne, 56.

The connection: Mike is the long-time boyfriend of Dr. Bannon’s daughter Maura (a former Chronicle intern). He’s friends with Tony; Dr. Bannon and Mr. Rohne are friends.

Their distillery is built into an old horse barn on the Bannon property, on Clements Road, off Ridge Road in Queensbury.

The group had been into home brewing. Mike says, “We all got into whiskey in our own way. We got to talking, and Dave said, we could start a legit distillery here. The industry is on the up and up.”

“We all bring something unique and necessary to the table,” Mike says. “Dave and Ken have both run their own businesses. Tony has been in beer sales and other sales, so he understands that.”

Mike, an engineer at Ames Goldsmith, said he has degrees in biology and chemistry from SUNY Potsdam. He’s the one tinkering with a test run of the new still (water only) when a reporter visits.

“And,” Mike adds, “we did tons and tons of research.”

They’re growing raspberries, rhubarb and grapes for fruit-infused spirits. They plan to make vodka as well, and they have wild junipers on the property, for making gin. They expect the vodka to be first up and running, as it doesn’t require aging, as well as a lemon vodka, gin and moonshine.

Aged products are to include “several different types of whiskey, bourbon, rye, malt whiskey,” Mike says.

He said they have their state and federal license, and have submitted formulas for state approval. Then they need approval of labels, a final step in the process. They aim to open in August.

“We’ll have a huge opening party,” Mike promises. “We want to do a lot of experimental small-scale stuff, maybe working with local breweries.

“Whiskey is more or less distilled beer minus the hops, you know.”

“We want to go international,” Dr. Bannon says. “We’ve contacted the Department of Commerce.” He said they’ve invested a quarter-million dollars in the project — and much sweat equity, converting the barn stalls into a public building with distillery, retail space and tasting bar.

The distillery is named for the spring that is their water source behind the barn. They’ve incorporated into the space some old augured-out cedar log water conduits they found around the brook and reused much of the barn wood to give the place a rustic character.

Set high on a hill overlooking Clements Road, the view from the open front of the building and the tasting room porch is of farm fields and distant mountains.

Mike says they hope to produce “several thousand to 5,000 gallons” in year one. As a small farm distillery, they’re limited to 35,000 — “we hope to make that in three or four years, Dr. Bannon suggests.

He said they’re “excited” to be part of the whiskey and craft brewers trail that’s been planned by the ARCC. “The ARCC, and the Town of Fort Ann planning board, everyone has been very much supportive.”

Adk. Pub’s plans

 

Finally, John Carr at Adirondack Pub and Brewery is continuing his plans to add a second building and distillery to his site on Canada Street in Lake George. Mr. Carr says he’s waiting on permits now, and hopes to start construction in September.

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