Whiskey Review: Hudson Maple Cask Rye

The combination of maple syrup and whiskey seems to be a winner, with a number of manufacturers jumping on that bandwagon and producing their some version of a maple-infused whiskey. Tuthilltown Spirits is breaking the mold a bit, though, by using a rye base to better represent it’s New York roots. So how does it stack up?

History

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.

Product

New York used to be known for its rye whiskey, which makes sense given the proximity to Canada (and the Canadian proclivity for rye whiskey). Tuthilltown wanted to bring back that rich history of rye whiskey production with their Manhattan Rye spirit, which becomes the base for their Maple Cask Rye.

This used to be a 100% rye based whiskey, but recently about 10% of the mash bill has been taken up by malted barley to improve the taste. Naturally, all of the rye is locally sourced from New York, with the malted barley being the only outsourced product.

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 rye and barley combination 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.

Here’s where things get interesting.

Tuthilltown ships a selection of their old used whiskey barrels to an unnamed maple syrup manufacturer in Vermont, where they are used to mature some of the maple syrup product. (Side note: I’ve had a bottle of a bourbon barrel maple syrup in my fridge for years and can attest — it’s absolutely delicious on pancakes and just about everything else). Once the syrup manufacturer is done with the barrels, they are shipped back to Tuthilltown. The same oak casks, now infused with maple syrup goodness, are then filled with some of their Manhattan Rye for finishing.

Once the whiskey is properly matured in the maple syrup casks, it is shipped to a New Jersey facility for bottling and distribution.

Packaging

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 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, who 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 but 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.

Neat

There’s a lot of similarity in aroma to the Manhattan Rye. I get the caramel and vanilla that you usually associate with barrel aged spirits, but layered on top is an apple cinnamon-esque spice that makes me think of candied apples at Halloween. Or apple cider doughnuts. But mingled in there is the sweet aroma of maple syrup, just in the background.

The liquid is smooth and has a good weight to it, not too viscous and not too thin. There’s a sweetness that wasn’t present in the Manhattan Rye, as well, which adds a bit to the texture.

The caramel and vanilla with a hint of black cherry is still a valid description for the taste — but starting a couple moments after the liquid hits your mouth, there’s a peppery taste that comes in and lingers long after the spirit has left. It’s not overpowering, but instead more of a pleasant taste that compliments the other flavors perfectly.

As the initial flavors fade, the maple syrup really starts to come into its own and provides a sweet finish that’s absolutely delicious.

On Ice

With the addition of a little ice the maple syrup flavors are brought to the front, with the black cherry and pepper taking more of a back seat. It seems a bit sweeter and more viscous.

In this format it might actually be a bit too far on sweet side of things. For my personal preference, at least.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

This is perfection in a glass.

On its own, the Manhattan Rye makes for a great old fashioned. The flavors are vibrant and it balances well with the orange bitters. But in this case, the added maple syrup brings a sweetness that makes it perfect for this application. I don’t even think you need any sugar muddled with the orange bitters, just add a couple dashes to the whiskey and serve.

Fizz (Mule)

There’s really no daylight between the flavors in this spirit and the Manhattan Rye when mixed into a mule. That’s not a bad thing — this is still a great cocktail — but there’s nothing that the maple syrup really brings to the table. It’s buried under the ginger beer and (depending on your recipe) the lime juice.

Overall Rating

What I really appreciate is that this is a maple-infused whiskey that’s done right. I’ve had some other whiskey varieties that just dump the maple syrup in the spirit, which makes for an overly sweet liquor or just obliterates the underlying flavors. In this case, though, there’s just enough maple syrup to improve the flavor without doing any harm in return. The result is an amazing whiskey that this former New Yorker keeps permanently in stock in his liquor cabinet.

Hudson Maple Cask Rye
Owner: Tuthilltown Spirits
Production: Gardiner, NY
Classification: Rye
Grain bill: 90% rye, 10% malted barley
Aging: Less than four years
Proof: 46% ABV
Price: $52.99/ 750ml

Overall Rating: 5/5
The perfect version of a maple syrup infused spirit.

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Hudson Maple Cask Rye
Rating
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