Tuthilltown Spirits is a distillery in the Hudson Valley region of New York, whose Baby Bourbon has become ubiquitous well beyond the reaches of the Empire State. Since it’s popularity has exploded so quickly we thought we’d try it to see what the fuss was about. Spoiler alert: its in demand for damn good reason.
- Check out our article on the Tuthilltown Distillery for a more in depth look at the history of this distillery!
The facility itself dates to 1788, when the eponymous Mr. Tuthill founded a grist mill to supply flour and other grains to the local region. The area became known as Tuthilltown (although that won’t help if you put that in Google – try Gardiner, NY instead) and is the quintessential bucolic New York location.
The distillery started when a former professional rock climber named Ralph Erenzo purchased the land in 2001, planning to build a bed and breakfast to share the beauty with other New Yorkers looking to escape the busy urban cities. After some difficulty obtaining permits, those plans never came to fruition, but by 2003 Ralph had enlisted the help of Brian Lee (an engineer by trade) and decided to turn his plot of land into a distillery. If they couldn’t bring people to the land, they could bring a taste of the land to the people.
Over the next few years the two built the distillery from the ground up, essentially creating the blueprints of how to run a farm distillery in New York (blueprints which others would soon follow). Using locally sourced ingredients and recipes true to the history of the region, they built a strong following and in 2010 the distillery was purchased by William Grant & Sons. Since then, the day to day operation has remained in the hands of the local New Yorkers, but thanks to that investment they have been able to greatly improve their output and start distributing their spirit to a much larger audience.
Normally a modern bourbon is some mixture of corn and other ingredients. In this case, Tuthilltown Spirits makes their Baby Bourbon from 100% local New York grown corn.
Almost every part of the whiskey making process happens on-site. At least, the important bits do. The corn comes in pre-milled (the 1788 grist mill still exists, but it takes about four hours to make a single bag of flour– not economical) and is cooked and fermented on-site in large vats. Originally the distillery used an old pasta sauce cooker for the process, but the recent acquisition means bigger custom built equipment is used these days instead.
Once the corn is fermented, it is filled into new charred oak barrels and socked away in the distillery’s rickhouses for a period of between one and four years. To aide in the maturation process, heavy bass sounds are pumped through the warehouse at night to force the spirit into every nook and cranny of the barrels.
Once the whiskey is properly matured it is shipped to a New Jersey facility for bottling and distribution.
I really like this bottle design, and I think it’s darn smart.
There’s little doubt that the design is unique and distinctive. It’s easy to spot a bottle of Tuthilltown’s product on the store shelves due to the shorter, fatter bottle design.
That design is a bit of a gamble that seems to have paid off. The fatter design means that stores and bartenders who stock it need to make extra room for it on the shelves, since it won’t fit in a standard spot or a speed well on a bar. What that means in practice is that the bottle has to be on the back bar, in full view of the patrons, and front and center on the shelf. There’s also no way to put it in the back row — the short height means it only makes sense in the front. So while it might not be as tall as the other bottles clamoring for attention, it plays by a different set of rules and guarantees that it will get noticed.
The perfectly round shape is another smart move. Take Tahwahkaro for example, they tried a similar move with a wide bottle trying to get more shelf appeal than other new whiskies. But because they made their bottle thinner in depth as well as wider in width, store owners are likely to slot it in sideways, completely obscuring the label and making it actually harder to see. The perfectly round shape of Tuthilltown’s bottles, though, forces store owners to play ball and display the way they intended.
I appreciate the design, the short, fat round bottle with a severely tapered shoulder and a short neck. The whole thing is capped off with a wax covered cork that I enjoy as well. The label on the bottle is clean and clear, taking a minimalist modern approach that exudes that New York sophistication.
As you might imagine from a 100% corn whiskey, this smells sweet and delicious. I can smell the caramel and vanilla from the charred barrels as clear as day, with a bit of crisp apple in the background that seems appropriate for a New York bourbon.
The spirit is smooth and delicious with a medium weight, not too viscous and not too thin either. Right on the nose for a 46% ABV spirit. There’s a bit of alcohol burn on the finish that lingers for a while, but it’s not significant or unpleasant.
Sipping the spirit neat the first thing that springs to mind is something that I didn’t notice in the smell: black cherry. Normally this is a flavor that seems overpowering and unbalanced, but in this case it blends perfectly with the caramel and vanilla notes to produce a well rounded spirit.
It’s a deep and rich flavor that’s delicious and enjoyable. Something you could sip all afternoon and late into the night.
With a bit of ice, nothing really changes. All of the flavors that were there originally remain there, which is not the typical experience. Usually when you add a bit of ice it tones down the stronger flavors and mellows things out a bit, but in this case there might not be anything to mellow out. The flavors were deliciously balanced to begin, so the ice just cools it down.
The one thing that is missing is the alcohol burn on the finish. It wasn’t unpleasant to start, but it is definitely absent with the addition of a couple ice cubes.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
All of the flavors up until this point have been deep, rich, and almost earthy. So when you add a bit of orange bitters to the mix the impact is amazing.
It feels like this is where the spirit shines the brightest. The orange bitters are balanced perfectly by the sweet caramel and cherry in the spirit, brightening the drink and making it more of a party cocktail than a sipping spirit.
Normally I prefer a rye forward bourbon for this cocktail. The pepper in the rye comes through nicely to make a spicier mule, and I generally think that’s a pretty good flavor profile. But in this case, the black cherry is in the driver’s seat and I don’t hate it.
The bourbon tones things down a bit, bringing the bitter and vibrant ginger beer back in line. It’s perfectly balanced and delicious, but it’s a more reserved and refined flavor profile than what I’d normally expect from a Kentucky (or New York) mule.
This is one of my favorite bourbons from one of my favorite distilleries. I like everything about this, from the distillery history to the location to the taste of the finished product itself.
Hudson Baby Bourbon
Owner: Tuthilltown Spirits (William Grant & Sons)
Production: Tuthilltown, New York
Grain bill: 100% New York corn
Aging: No Age Statement (~1-4 years)
Proof: 46% ABV
Price: $45 / 750ml
Overall Rating: 5/5
Putting me in that New York state of inebriation.