The Other Great Thing at Golden Harvest
If you aren’t observing Yom Kippur on Saturday, this weekend looks like it will be beautiful for heading out to one of the many local apple orchards. Maybe you will hit up last year’s Tour de Donut champ, Indian Ladder Farms for their deeply crusty version of the form.
But as we discovered last weekend, east of the Hudson River, Golden Harvest Farms is the untouchable cider donut champ.
Now cider donuts are great and all. However, Golden Harvest has something else that really sets them apart from every other orchard in the region. And that’s their distillery, Harvest Spirits. I’ve been a longtime fan of their work, but it has been many months since my last visit (and even longer since my last post on the distillery). After the Tour de Donut I stopped back in and caught up with Derek and Collin, and they have a bunch of new things I’m quite excited about.
It’s great to see the distillery grow.
On my first visit there, it was really just a concrete room with a towering still, a couple of large plastic fermentation vats, and some counters. Over the years, they have added racks that hold barrels of aging spirits and a gorgeous wood loft. Most recently, they have extended their wooden patio to include a seating area, and have upgraded their fermenters to fancy stainless models.
They have also added some new and notable products to their line. Now in addition to vodka made from their own apples, Cornelius Applejack, un-aged pear brandy and un-aged apple brandy are two other tempting spirits.
I hesitate to even tell you about this, since I left without getting a bottle for myself. There are only about eight hundred half-bottles (375ml) of the stuff available in existence. They took their already stunning whole-fruit distilled pear brandy and put it in new charred oak for 6 months, and moved it to a mellower used barrel for an additional 18 months. The Rare Pear isn’t cheap, but $32 seems a fair price to pay for the fruit, wood and time.
This seems like something best suited for winter sipping by the fire. Still, given its rarity I should swing by soon, pick up a bottle, and stash it away for a cold and snowy night.
There was something else that I just had to have.
I had tried Harvest Spirits’ earlier experiment with grappa, and I wasn’t thrilled with the result. Let’s just say they took some liberties with the recipe and made a reasonably good spirit, but one that bore little resemblance to its namesake.
Grappa is effectively a brandy made from the byproducts of winemaking: the grape skins, seeds and stems. Historically grappa has gotten a bum rap. People criticize it as being fiery and rough. And yes, less refined versions of the spirit can be a bit raw and sinus clearing. But there is indeed good grappa to be found.
This one is made from the remnants of the Seyval Blanc production of my friends at the nearby Hudson-Chatham winery. And it makes me very happy. The spirit is clear, bottled at 40% ABV, and offers the lovely dried fruit flavor of golden raisins. It’s a polished, accessible introductory grappa, perfect for those who might be otherwise scared away by the spirit’s reputation.
Both of these are available to taste at the distillery for a buck per sample, along with all their other spirits. But, if you buy a bottle of something after sampling, the tasting fee is waived. There is also a posted limit of three samples per person, which is difficult because they have so much good stuff to try.
Here a few ideas for flights:
Pear & Wood: Applejack, Pear Brandy, Rare Pear
Cornerstones: Vodka, Applejack, Rare Pear
Clear spirits: Vodka, Grappa, Pear Brandy
FLB Fall 3-Pack: Grappa, Applejack, Rare Pear
Speaking of trying new things, I got a peek under the hood at something on the horizon. It’s a deeper darker version of Harvest Spirits’ Applejack commingled with peaches. It’s aging in a barrel right now, and it is surprisingly good. Usually I don’t go for fruity or otherwise flavored things. Although with this and the Cabin Fever I may no longer to be able to claim that as a prejudice.
The plan is to call this Peach Schnaps, loosely based on the European definition of the word with one “P”. To me this seems like a marketing problem, as it’s likely to be confused with Peach Schnapps, which is used in Fuzzy Navels and is sweet, simple and disgusting. But whatever you call it, the local farm-distilled version is unexpectedly delicious.
Anyhow, if you haven’t been to Harvest Spirits, now is the time to go. The distillery may get a bit more crowded during the high season than on a Sunday in February. But it also provides a blessed break from the frenzy of apple pickers.
The trick is to sample the spirits before eating your cider donut. All the sugar will mess up your palate. Plus the booze will only serve to make the donuts taste that much better. And with a few samples in you, the lines won’t seem as onerous.
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Note: In the spirit of full disclosure, I tried to pay for my bottle of grappa. Twice. But Collin insisted that it was on the house. I’m thankful and touched by his generosity. And if you think this has influenced my opinion of the distillery or their spirits, that’s your prerogative. But I assure you it has not.