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Vodka Farm

June 1, 2009

When I was inspired to start visiting farms from the Honest Weight Food Coop film series, this was not exactly the kind of farm I had in mind.  In fact, inexplicably Harvest Spirits was not even on the HWFC local farm info sheet.  It’s a fantastic place, so I could imagine someone wanting to keep it a secret.

I suppose it’s not really a vodka farm.  Really, it’s an apple farm.  If you really want to get technical, it’s Golden Harvest Farm.

Some of their apples get blemished or bruised.  Apparently hail has been a problem and more and more apples are too ugly to sell at full price.  So the farm ordered a custom-made column still, and now takes those ugly apples and makes vodka.

Vodka?

Yes, it’s odd.  Historically speaking, it is not odd for an orchard to distill its fruit.  Before Prohibition the distillation of apple cider into the American apple brandy widely known as applejack was commonplace.  And it made sense.  A farmer could trudge only so many apples to market.  If you can create a product that uses more apples and takes up less space, you have created a better business.

But making vodka out of apples is pretty strange.

There are good reasons to do it.  First, vodka, despite its recent dip in popularity among the cocktail cognoscenti, remains the top-selling spirit nationally.  Second, it is also relatively quick and straightforward to produce, much more so than brandy.

This is important if you are trying to build a business.  And there are many craft distilleries that make vodka to pay their bills, while they pursue other more-challenging and possibly less-profitable endeavors.  So try as I may, I cannot fault them for this decision.

Plus their apple vodka is very good.  Their tasting room is open Saturday and Sunday between noon and 5 pm.  If you go, you can see their still, learn about the process, and sample their wares.  I would suggest that you do not think of it as vodka, but rather a high-proof apple distillate.  It has a fruitiness and an apple perfume on the finish that I really feel need to be taken on their own terms.

All “vodka” really means anyhow is that a spirit has been refined to 95% alcohol before it has been cut for bottling.  So feel free to leave your impressions of what vodka is supposed to taste like at the door.

Given the rustic nature of the distillery, it is a bit surprising to see such polish on the product marketing.  The vodka is called Core, which is a nice play on words that addresses vodka distilling as well as the fruit at the spirit’s base.  The bottle design and labeling are clean and modern.  And they have a handsome website.

But at the same time, it’s really not a polished operation.  They make the vodka by the batch, which produces about 1,000 bottles at a time.  And each batch is different.  I would say very different, since some are made with single varietals of apples (which can change from batch to batch), and some are made with a blend of apples.  The only way to know this would be to go online and check out the distiller’s notebook.

We bought a bottle while we were there.  And it’s no small decision, because this stuff is not cheap.  Our batch came from Red Delicious apples, and I must say that this vodka might possibly be the best use for Red Delicious I have ever seen.  But now seeing the notebook, I am wondering if there might have been a bottle from batch number seven tucked away somewhere.

It is exactly this lack of polish that I find so damn appealing about the place.  The distillery is tucked around back of the farm stand.  It is really just one large room.  A couple of tanks.  The still.  A crap-load of bottles that are in the process of being filled by hand.  Plus since they are trying to keep costs low, if you return your empty bottle they will give you a free shot glass.

And it’s right here.  Right in our back yard.  Less than a 30 minute drive from Albany.

As it grows I would love to see the distillery get a pot still and start producing some serious brandies with more attention to which apples they use as opposed to just using what won’t sell.  They do have an applejack in the works, and I am very excited to get out again and taste it when it’s ready.  But given the quality of their product, and people’s increased focus on local products, it should only be a matter of time before they truly achieve their potential.

If you do go, maybe you let them know I sent you.  They don’t know me from a hole in the wall.  But befriending your local neighborhood distiller is always a good idea.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. June 1, 2009 10:21 am

    I keep meaning to stop there every time I drive by.

    Right now, I’m even more into the Tuthilltown folks though. Check ’em out: http://www.tuthilltown.com/

    They just did a tasting at Capital Wine and Spirits, and are working on a possible move to the Hudson area soon.

  2. JMc permalink
    June 3, 2009 2:14 pm

    If you can’t make it to Golden Harvest any time soon, but still want to taste the vodka, Capital Wine has this too.

  3. June 3, 2009 5:58 pm

    I totally salute Capital Wine and Spirits for carrying this local product. And I am sure they will gladly sell you a bottle.

    It is unlikely they will let you taste it and decide if you care to buy a bottle. Also, Golden Harvest just isn’t that far away. Just go. If it feels too far, stop off an Five Guys Famous Burgers & Fries off exit 9 on the way out.

  4. June 4, 2009 2:54 pm

    Thanks everyone for spreading the word. Indeed at Capital Wine, we carry the Core Vodka from Harvest Spirits. I would also like to note that we also carry LiV vodka, which is made on Long Island, from potatoes, as well as delicious P3 vodka from Lake Placid Spirits. We do occasionally have tastings on these products, so if you come in, just ask! Thanks again, Capital Wine.

  5. Mirdreams permalink
    December 2, 2009 2:17 pm

    Loudenville Wine and Liquor also has it (I bought my bottle there).

  6. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    February 15, 2010 6:16 pm

    What a revelation. I just had a shot of it, and yes you can taste apple. Better than “vodka”!

  7. February 16, 2010 11:36 am

    I just found the Core vodka at Uncorked in Glens Falls when I went to pick up my order of Tito’s vodka (made from corn- clean and mildly sweet tasting- I love it)

    I didn’t pick it up as I was already there to purchase vodka and sparkling wine but I did see that they also have the Core apple and pear brandies which I am curious about but did not have the funds to purchase at the time. Have you tried them?

  8. Annie B permalink
    July 6, 2010 8:32 am

    Always a delight to be shepherded through the process by someone passionate about what they do. The Profussor and the distillers, who welcomed us in despite being closed, are cut from the same cloth. Their love and dedication are at the Core.

    As for the pear brandy, … wow! Reminds us of our favorite pear Sorbet at Christina’s in Cambridge, MA. The taste of pear is so vivid and round that we swear we feel the pear’s texture. We shared a glass last night savoring each sip and found that (unlike several bottles from other winery tours), this was as good or better than we experienced it in the tasting room.

    Happy to hear that we will be able to find it in NYC. A big thanks to the Profussor for bringing us to the vodka farm, and to Derek for inviting us in.

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