Our First Corporate Tour


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. 


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. 


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. 


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.) 


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?