Tuthilltown: The Birthplace of Craft Distilling in New York State

Tuthilltown: The Birthplace of Craft Distilling in New York State
Posted September 12, 2017

New York State’s craft beverage industry is booming. Locally distilled spirits contribute over $27 billion to the State’s economy, and in the past five years alone, the number of distillers has grown by 500 percent. Governor Cuomo and State lawmakers have recognized the industry’s contributions by enacting legislation to make it easier to break into the business, and from Montauk to Fredonia, new breweries, distilleries, cideries and wineries are opening up at a blistering pace. But few people know that the boom began at a small craft distillery in the Ulster County town of Gardiner.

Founded in 2003, Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery was the first legal whiskey producer in New York State since Prohibition. For decades, legislation had made it extremely difficult for new distilleries to open, with licensing fees alone near $60,000. Everything changed, however, when Tuthilltown founders Ralph Erenzo and Brian Lee happened upon an obscure law allowing distilleries to get a license for only $1,450. Their discovery sparked a revolution, with dozens of distillers following their lead almost overnight. Erenzo and Lee lobbied legislators and convinced them of the benefits that distilling could bring to local economies—and New York State’s craft beverage renaissance began with the full support of leaders in government.

Today, Tuthilltown distributes throughout the tri-state area, and bars as far away as San Francisco carry its products. In April, Tuthilltown was acquired by independent family-owned Scottish distiller William Grant & Sons, with plans to expand production and distribution even further. The distillery has won numerous accolades, including Distillery of the Year from Whiskey Magazine and American Distillery of the Year from the American Distilling Institute. Tuthilltown has expanded into a variety of other spirits, including gin, vodka, and cordials made from local ingredients. But perhaps its biggest contribution has been putting the Hudson Valley on the map as a craft beverage leader.

Thanks in large part to Tuthilltown, Ulster County sits at the epicenter of New York’s burgeoning craft beverage movement, home to dozens of mouth-watering options for imbibers. Keegan Ales in Kingston got its start around the same time as Tuthilltown, and has enjoyed increasing popularity year after year. New to the scene, Arrowood Farms in Accord is at the vanguard of the farm-to-beer movement, growing hops and rye on site. Coppersea Distillery in New Paltz is handcrafting spirits the old-fashioned way, offering some incredible raw whiskies that cannot be found anywhere else. And as one of the nation’s largest apple-producing regions, it’s no surprise that new cideries are springing up across the county, too.

Ulster County officials have long supported new breweries, distilleries, cideries and wineries, recognizing the benefit to the local economy in sales, tourism, and sustainable jobs. Their support has allowed the craft beverage industry to thrive and has helped make Ulster County a destination for beverage enthusiasts. “Ulster County has a wonderful collection of breweries, wineries, cideries, and distilleries,” says County Executive Mike Hein. “Besides producing some of the best beer, wine, cider and spirits, they also contribute to our vibrant tourism industry, combining food offerings with tastings and tours, and providing beautiful outdoor spaces while visitors enjoy time spent with friends and family. Ulster County is quickly becoming the premier craft beverage destination for tourists in the Northeast.”

Even as the county’s craft beverage movement matures, there’s still millions of dollars of unmet demand both locally and in easily accessible metropolitan markets. Interested in learning more about how you can start, grow or relocate your business to Ulster County? If so, let our dedicated economic development team help you succeed. Reach out today to see how we can help!

Ulster County Office of Economic Development
244 Fair St, 6th Floor
Kingston, NY 12401

Phone: (845) 340-3556
Email: oed[at]co.ulster.ny[dot]us