Our First Corporate Tour

TastingRoomSloop

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of running my first corporate tour for a friend and her colleagues. They build software for the healthcare industry and their office is located at 721 Broadway, the same office that Citizen Action NY and my local radical marching band, Tin Horn Uprising, go to every Friday to protest Congressman Faso and his various shortcomings as an elected official. We're a bit rag-tag and play songs like "Bella Ciao" and "Down By the Riverside" to uplift the local activists and to offer chant support on the issues we feel strongly about. But I digress. 

OldeYorkFarmDistillery

The tour started out near my friend's home in Woodstock, and I picked all six of my passengers up in the Municipal parking lot. Woodstock is a little bit of a trek to the tasting destinations in the region, whether you're headed to the more popular Shawangunk Mountain region, or up to Columbia County, where we were headed, but it was a beautiful 45 minute drive featuring stunning views of the Catskill Mountains along the way. We arrived at Olde York Farm in Claverack in the early afternoon, where we tasted 12 or so different spirits ranging from my personal favorite, the Smoked Maple Bourbon, to the Cacao Maple Vodka (which has a lovely yummy chocolatey finish), the Thai Basil Liqueur, the Buddha's Hand Citron Vodka (have you ever seen a Buddha's hand? I hadn't. Google search an image) and more. The group was taken on a tour of the cooperage and distillery by the British barrel-maker himself, who referenced a time when the pieces of wood were so stubborn they flung across the room, out of his control. 

TouseyWinery

After Olde York it was a 15 minute drive down to Tousey Winery in Clermont, where I had reserved the private room. In the winery parking lot we passed an older gentleman on a bicycle, in the cold, eager to show us his box of beeswax candles. We learned upon entering that he was Ray Tousey, the namesake and founder of the winery and also esteemed beekeeper and honey maker. We enjoyed a tasting of five wines: the Queen of Clermont, Reisling, Red Riot, Cabernet Franc and the Pinot Noir. To cap off the tasting we were offered a choice between the Creme de Cassis (akin to a red port, but made with local honey) and the Bloomé white port. We learned that Ray's honey was in several of the wines we enjoyed, specifically the ports, and I later learned that the Cassis was the first wine the winery produced, and the impetus for the now bustling family winery business that is Tousey Winery. 

SloopBrewingCoBeer

Last but not least, it was time to venture onwards to Sloop Brewing Co. for a beer tasting. My client/friend had mentioned her love of sour beer, and I knew Sloop was the best place for that. Sloop has such an amiable atmosphere too, playing fun music and filled with warm lighting, games and fun things to look at, so even though one of my six passengers didn't drink beer, she enjoyed hanging out and chatting with the beer-maker as well. The tasting was of three beers in addition to the sour: a stout, the infamous Juice Bomb IPA, and one other IPA. All I can say is that they were a hit. Sloop also has an in-house market that sells sausages, local honey and chips and other tasty jams and sauces that make good gifts. In the summer there's an orchard outside, and sunflowers depending on the time of year. It's a great stop that everyone always enjoys, beer-drinker or not. (They have a tasty cider for us gluten-free folk as well.) 

SloopFarmBeerHolidays

All in all, it was a great tour! We all learned a lot about how things were made and tried things we hadn't tasted ever before. As we headed back to Woodstock it began to flurry and the gang headed out to Cucina for a celebratory holiday dinner.

Tasting Tours in the Hudson Valley

Since relocating to Saugerties, NY and starting this business, a lot of folks have asked me a lot of questions, predominantly, "Why tasting tours? Why the Hudson Valley? Why leave NYC?" So I thought I'd take a minute to put the answers down here in hopes that more people will be able to understand why I find the Hudson Valley region to be so special. 

I'd been visiting the Hudson Valley on weekends since college, primarily visiting friends at SUNY New Paltz to get away from undergrad city life. At New Paltz, I felt more welcome than I did at my own college, the sense of community there more pronounced, the social exchanges easier, more natural for me. We explored the outdoors together by day and hit up dance parties at night, and it felt easy. Everyone was open, friendly and warm, I didn't have to try hard to be cool, or to be something I wasn't; I could just be myself, whatever that happened to be that day. 

As I grew older I remembered this feeling and continued to travel to the region to visit friends in the area. The Hudson Valley became my go-to place for an escape from the city, to hike, to see foliage, and to eat really good food. I introduced my partner to the area when we met and she promptly fell in love. When we began planning our wedding it was clear that we wanted to be married in the Catskill Mountains, so that's what we did. When we began to think about buying a home, exhausted from our jobs, commutes and the ever increasing price of rent, we asked ourselves, "Why buy a studio when we could buy a three bedroom house?" And so we hatched our plan to relocate to the Hudson Valley full-time. 

This was not an easy transition to navigate, and ultimately we were only able to do so because my partner was able to negotiate a part-time remote situation with her job in NYC. She still commutes 2-3 days a week, 2.5 hours each way to keep us afloat. I will be honest and say that the job market in the region is not great. Many are self-employed and the larger companies that are hiring offer significantly lower salaries than what one might earn in NYC. Our cost of living is only a little less than it was in the city due to the high cost of utilities and commuting, but we own our home and we are so happy to be up here. 

Perhaps the biggest perk of all is that once we were no longer maintaining both a rent and a mortgage, I was able to quit my job in property management to pursue my own business selling travel and Tasting Tours in the Hudson Valley, something that would never have been possible if we had stayed in the city. Now why Tasting Tours? A former travel agent and a real estate professional, I'd had my eye on the region for awhile, especially after Brooklyn real estate prices skyrocketed. The development of Hudson, NY and now Kingston, NY caught my eye, as did the many NY Times articles on "Brooklyn North" as well as the recent changes in the distillery laws in New York State. As frequent consumers and lovers of bourbon and wine, my partner and I started to visit the local wineries and distilleries on our trips upstate, and we realized that not only that the products were high-quality and very tasty, but the locations were very close together.  I also took note that none of my friends even knew any of these wineries or distilleries existed. 

While a very successful industry pre-Prohibition, New York's distillery renaissance did not begin until 2001, when  Ralph Erenzo, owner of what was then called the Tutilltown Gristmill, discovered a little known 2000 law that permitted micro-distilling at a reduced permit fee of $1500 versus the standard $65,000, provided that the producer made 35,000 or fewer gallons a year. This got him rethinking his plans for the Gristmill, and in 2003, Tutilltown Distillery and Hudson Baby Bourbon were born. In 2007, frustrated by the lack of exposure for his business while limited to wholesale distribution,  he rallied for and successfully helped to pass the Farm Distillery Act, which dramatically reduced the cost of licensing for new distilleries provided they used local grains, and allowed farm distilleries to sell directly to consumers and to open on-site tasting rooms for visitors to enjoy. (Previously only wineries were allowed to do this, per the Winery Act of 1976.) A Brewery Farm Act followed in 2012. 

Since then, local producers have been upping the ante and making their mark. I have enjoyed pretty much everything I've tasted, and am repeatedly awed by the beautiful landscapes at each location. Newer destinations like Olde York Farm are making unique products like Cacao Maple Vodka, Thai Basil Liqueur and Mulled Peach Whiskey. The Hudson Valley Distillers have an amazing Applejack brandy that tastes just like bourbon to me. Tousey Winery's Chardonnay is one of my personal favorites, which is surprising since I generally only like super oaky Chardonnays and this one is aged in stainless steel, but whatever they're doing, I'm into it! Sloop Brewing Co. has an excellent cider for the gluten-free drinker (like myself) but also a crowdpleaser of a sour beer, named (ironically?) Confliction. 

At only 2 hours north of NYC with endless combinations to cater to specific flavor palates, I saw an opportunity to connect the dots and create an experience where people can enjoy the natural beauty of the Hudson Valley, support local entrepreneurs, learn how the beverages they love are made, and enjoy special, local craft incarnations of their favorite spirits, wines and beers. I truly love bringing people together and I believe this tour is a fun, different yet educational way to spend memorable quality time with friends and family. And with drives through rolling hills, farm stands along the way and views of the Catskill Mountains, what's not to love? 

Visiting Omi Sculpture Park and Olde York Farm Distillery & Cooperage

This past weekend, instead of driving over an hour to the amazing but likely very crowded Storm King Art Center, my partner and I decided instead to head northbound, to the lesser known Omi Sculpture Park in Ghent, NY.  After a 40 minute drive dotted with foliage on lovely country roads, we were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a sculpture of a beautiful, massive, incredibly life-like deer just peering out at us over Route 22. We entered the visitor center and were immediately greeted by friendly volunteers, who showed us the way.

The Omi park itself features over 60 acres of wide open fields (and some wooded areas as well) filled with immersive, large-scale sculptural and architectural pieces, and we thoroughly enjoyed walking around the place on this unseasonably warm and sunny day. I particularly enjoyed photographing the pieces, admiring how the light and shadows from the sun interacted with the pieces, and capturing my partner in creative, artistic poses. 

Perhaps the most entertaining experience of our visit to Omi was a trip down underground through Alice Aycock’s sculpture, A Simple Network of Underground Wells and Tunnels. I do wish Omi had supplied some knee pads as crawling through concrete tunnels (and down rickety ladders to reach the underground) is definitely not for the faint of heart or one with bad knees. That said, the experience of hearing our voices echo to each other underneath the ground was definitely a memorable one. 

After our visit to Omi, we checked out the eleven days new Olde York Farm Distillery & Cooperage Tasting Room in Claverack (15 minutes from Hudson, NY) where we tasted and fell in love with the delicious Smoked Maple Bourbon. We also tasted the Cacao Maple Vodka which, surprisingly, had a legitimate chocolate finish that didn't taste as strange as it sounded. (In fact was pretty darn good.) I didn't know what a cooperage was so I inquired within, and the owners explained that they make all their own barrels rather than sourcing them. For those who are unfamiliar, when making alcohol, barrels are used to age your favorite spirits for various lengths of time, depending on the desired result, and different types of wood will produce different flavors. The co-owner, Sophie, said the cooperage started as her father's hobby, and over time became a real business for them. Pretty cool! (I love these kinds of entrepreneurship stories.) In addition to the tasting, they also give tours of the distillery and the cooperage, which Event Atlas will gladly put together for you! 

 

 

It's Finally Fall!

As recent relocatees to the Hudson Valley from Brooklyn, my partner and I have been very excited to experience our first fall season up north. This past weekend the weather finally decided to leave summer behind, conveniently when a couple of our friends were coming up to visit from NYC. We ventured out into the Catskill Mountains in search of some peak foliage and mountain views, and I'm happy to report that we were successful in this mission! 

We headed for Huckleberry Point, which was a trail I'd read about on the Hike the Hudson Valley site. The signage is not great, but thankfully I'd kept the guide instructions up on my phone so we knew to search for the yellow trail, and what turns to make in the not-well marked intersections. It was the perfect fall afternoon with friends as we immersed ourselves in yellow leaves and the clean, fresh smell of the Catskill woods, emerging after an hour and a half to a truly spectacular view of the shadowy Catskill Mountains, the Hudson River and the changing leaves. 

We spent over an hour sitting together on a large rock, eating our cucumber and hummus sandwiches and talking about the state of the world around us. Afterwards, we returned home to our Tousey Winery Chardonnay and Rioja from a local wine store, cooked up a mushroom and kale risotto and whiled away the beautiful evening together.