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Bringing Home Cornelius

December 2, 2009

Last week, I wrote about my excitement for the impending release of Harvest Spirits’ first batch of applejack.  Yesterday was the first day their Cornelius Applejack was available for sale, and I was among the first to buy a bottle of the stuff.

If you live in or around Albany, you have no excuse not to visit the distillery.  The fact that this traditional but long-abandoned use for apples is being resurrected in our backyard is very special.

Part of me feared that people would be lining up early to get their hands on one of the few hundred bottles from the first batch.  But in reality, people don’t buy booze on a snowy Tuesday before noon.  So I had the place mostly to myself, and got to talk for a while with Derek and Collin about their work and their plans for the future.

But first let me tell you a little about the booze.

You are going to have to cut me some slack.  I do not make a habit of pontificating about wines or spirits, because it is hard freaking work.  Sure, separating aromas and flavors into their component pieces and then trying to slap names on them to make them recognizable to others sounds like it should be a piece of cake.  But it’s not.

Those who do it for a living develop a kind of shorthand.

But just like a professional spirits review, the description of smells and flavors that follow are just one person’s perceptions of what is coming out of the glass.  Given the subjective nature of taste, yours may vary.

The color of the spirit is between pale gold and hay.  It has picked up this color after a year of aging in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels.  The distillery was surprised, actually, at how much color it had after only a year.  Some spirits are known to have caramel color added to aid their appearance.  This does not.

The smell has a lot of sweet elements to it.  I found butterscotch and maple.  There was something a bit floral that some people read as vanilla, but I’m going to call honeysuckle.  Mrs. Fussy thought she detected citrus.  Sniffing the glass and thinking of citrus, I can fool myself into thinking there is some dried orange peel too.

And I say that half in jest, but half in truth.  What’s that they say? “Seek and ye shall find?”  This exercise is a minefield of awareness versus perception.

In the mouth, the applejack is all about the mid-palate.  None of the sweetness from the nose is present in the mouth.  I find that it slips in with a nice firm body and then explodes with some of the smoky woody flavors of the barrel but with a fruity core that carries through to the clean lingering finish.

Seriously, that was exhausting.  And I am totally underrepresenting the complexities of the mid-palate.  But in the mouth the flavors are much more fleeting than they are in the glass.  I can sniff the glass a thousand times (and probably have) to try and unwrap the aromatics.  But if I take even a hundred sips, my critical capacity will be long out the window.

Let me say this again.  The Cornelius Applejack is special stuff.  And even at $40 a 750 ml bottle it’s a bargain.
1)    Each bottle is made from over 60 pounds of fresh local apples.
2)    It contains 100% applejack, and is not cut with grain neutral spirits.
3)    The contents are the product of a single barrel.
4)    It is aged for a year in the barrels from a kickass bourbon.
5)    It’s essentially made and bottled by hand.
6)    When you return your empty bottle, you get a free shot glass.

Honestly, now that I think about it, I don’t know how they can sell this for $40 and be profitable, especially when their vodka, which does not require aging, sells for $35 a bottle.

Speaking of vodka…

While I was there I felt compelled to try the current batch of apple vodka.  If you read my initial post on the distillery, you will know that I really do not regard the product as vodka at all.

Harvest Spirits is now on batch 21 of their Core Vodka.  And holy shit, it is really good.  Those butterscotch notes from the applejack are present in this unaged spirit.  It’s not sweet, but gives off the unmistakable impression of caramelized sugar in butter.

After trying it, I couldn’t leave the distillery without at least a small bottle of the stuff.  I claimed it was for my in-laws.  But if I can keep that bottle unopened until Christmas, I have more self-control than I imagined.

What was the most encouraging, after a splendid time tasting and talking spirits, is the very real sense that Harvest Spirits is improving: they are fine-tuning their craft, developing products that are a natural evolution from their current line, and introducing whole-fruit fermentation.

Even getting some lackluster Ida-Reds at the orchard and some sub-par tacos in Valatie couldn’t bring me down after a marvelous morning with Derek and Collin.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. December 2, 2009 1:10 pm

    I couldn’t get there yesterday, but managed to have someone pick me up a bottle. Pretty excited to try it, and more so after your post! My applejack runner bought some of the pear brandy too, and already has the vodka, so I think we’ll be doing some tasting tonight.

  2. phairhead permalink
    December 2, 2009 6:40 pm


  3. katerbirch permalink
    December 2, 2009 8:10 pm

    I had the pleasure of interviewing and working with the men behind Harvest Spirits when they first got the still. They are fantastic people, and the fact they are able to create a product like this using their own apples and sweat equity is incredible.

  4. Raf permalink
    December 5, 2009 3:04 pm

    The chron just did an article on apple brandies.

  5. Mike W permalink
    December 9, 2009 8:49 pm

    I’ve been waiting months for Harvest Spirits to release their Applejack. Driving up on a snowy Saturday was well worth it considering the quality of the product. While the spirit is excellent to sip on, I was curious if you had any suggestions or ideas for its use in a cocktail?

  6. Shawn F permalink
    March 22, 2010 4:38 pm

    Drove down yesterday and talked to one of the guys (can’t remember his name). Very excited about what he was doing, and turns out he’s a homebrewer like me (surprise!). This is tasty stuff. I’m trying to figure out how to get a bottle shipped to my brother in Michigan now. I might have to suck it up and just pack it in my checked bag when I fly out there this summer.

  7. August 6, 2010 5:20 am

    Sounds wonderful. Being a Jack Rose man, I’m three shades of jealous. Is it spiced ala the Laird’s Applejack or more of a straight brandy?

  8. October 15, 2010 12:47 pm

    I really missed the boat on this one, because I JUST found out about the Harvest Spirits Distillery even though I’ve been going to their orchard for years. Just bought my first bottle of Applejack a few weekends ago and am loving it up! I wrote a post about the applejack over on my blog, but if their Core Vodka really gives off ” the unmistakable impression of caramelized sugar in butter”… then it looks like I need to make a trip back a buy a bottle of that, STAT.

  9. November 21, 2010 4:33 pm

    when i paid a visit to the distillery last weekend with a few friends, i thought about buying a bottle, but in the end i “didnt want to spend any money.” here it is one week later, and i just ran up to capital wine on lark st to get it. :-x i’ll bring it along to share at thanksgiving.


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