Yesterday was arguably the most fantastic day trip I have been in a long time. The perfect summer day when it’s not so humid and hot, mixed with a gentle breeze, and puffy, friendly white clouds in the blue sky. Heading up to the historic and very charming Hudson Valley that’s about 2 hours from Manhattan in a shiny black Buick LaCrosse with our driver of the day, Eddie.
Many thanks to the generous people of Buick/Drive the District and our hosts of the day, Montgomery Place Orchards, Hillrock Distillery, and dinner at Fish & Game. The dinner will be covered on a separate post but you get glimpses of that dinner’s brilliance when you look at my Instagram feed.
We were fortunate that traffic wasn’t bad when we drove north to Montgomery Place Orchards. Seeing the transition from skyscrapers to bright green, leafy trees, rolling hills and livestock grazing the grass really makes this jaded New Yorker’s smile. (Unlike the Hamptons.) Since we were the first of the four pairs of guests to arrive, we wandered around the grounds, seeing the working beehives, the budding apples that look gorgeous and clusters of grapes growing. Also we met the most friendliest “watch dog” who loves to get attention from us city people and fetching sticks.
Eventually we get to meet the lovely Chef Mona Talbott. You can feel her warm generosity from the way she talks about where she gets her ingredients to the beautifully, rustic food she cooks for us. When you eat her food, it felt like a big, warm hug from a friend you know for a long time.
While we wait for others, she made a trio of delicious bruschettas for us. The roasted new garlic, long-cooked kale and chili oil had such intense flavors with a pleasantly spicy kick to waken the palate. The Catskill smoked trout, chopped hard boiled farm egg, chervil, chives, and nasturtium flowers from her garden could almost pass for my dream trout salad sandwich, if it were in between two slices of the wonderfully grilled bread that she served us. The amazing creamy sheep’s milk ricotta, roasted apricots from Montgomery Place Orchard, honey, rosemary and black pepper that was sweet but balanced by the herbaceous rosemary and black pepper.
We do get the choice of beverages from a fruity, French rosé, sparkling water or the strawberry lemonade. The latter is the most popular drink since it’s refreshing and sweet but most importantly, the strawberries were from the farm. That were the best tumblers of strawberry lemonade I ever had.
By the time everyone has arrived, our picnic table was situated underneath a huge, old maple tree to provide ample shade from the hot sun.
Mona and her assistant walked from their kitchen with large, heavy stoneware dishes filled with slow cooked pork shoulder with fava bean salsa verde and wild arugula, platters of shaved zucchini and zucchini flower salad with mint, toasted almonds and Chaseholm Farm chèvre, and French beans, sweet corn and basil salad with cherry tomato vinaigrette.
The pork shoulder was fantastic. No real need for a knife to cut except to separate the large chunks of super tender, sweet pork. The fava bean salsa verde added a subtle brightness to the wonderfully braised pork. If I could take leftovers with me, it would make an excellent sandwich.
The salads of shaved zucchini and the sweet corn and French beans were vegetarian dishes I don’t mind eating the entire season. I admit, I am still dreaming (and craving) to have those salads ever since this morning. The salads resonate summer. I loved how sweet and tender these vegetables were. Despite the fact they were treated in a minimalist manner, like the zucchini were tossed in olive oil and lemon juice, still bursting with lots of flavor.
Cayuga yellow eye beans cooked over the fire with fried sage and new garlic were wonderfully creamy and the fried sage added an musty, earthy twang and the subtle crispness elevated this humble but delicious pot of beans.
To finish off this lunch, we had our own plate of an old school dessert, pavlova. Pavlova is a mound of baked meringue layered with whipped cream and topped with any fruit. What makes it utterly sublime is that Mona sweetened the whipped cream with elderflower syrup and the macerated blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries that were picked about an hour before we’re served this dessert. It’s a world of a difference to have just picked berries compared to what you buy from the supermarket the flavors are so much more intense and the berries’ textures are so much delicate.
Our next stop after lunch was about a half hour drive to Hillrock Distillery, a young but highly respected whisky brand founded by Jeff Baker that started producing whiskey in 2011. We had the Head of Operations and Distiller, Tim Welly to give us an in depth tour of the distillery.
This large estate was originally established and owned by the Baker family in 1806. The fields surrounding the estate (and tennis court in the back) sitting are the organically grown barley field and a rye field.
The mission of this distillery is to be a local (focusing on the grains’ terroir) sustainable, field-to-bottle brand.
The distillery has its own malting floor, which really is an entire floor of a farmhouse with poured concrete that is humidity and the floor is temperature controlled. They are probably the first and only in the country to have such a room on a distillery’s grounds.
They’re using a variety of smoking techniques for some of the malt (and looking at old maps to find local peat sources). They are distilling on a combi-still (a pot still with a column) with a series of adjustments applicable to the type of spirit produced that Pickerell would take pains to show me. They are currently aging spirit in seven different barrel sizes.
Tim and his team controlls every aspect of production from planting and harvesting heirloom grains, to smoking our malt, to crafting whiskies in their custom copper pot still, to aging in small oak barrels and hand bottling, they are able create the highest quality whiskies reflecting the unique local terroir and every barrel batch has its own unique characteristics.
We finished the tour with of course, tasting their entire product line of whiskies and their unique Solera. Also with a tray of local cheeses like Tomme and a three other cheeses that escaping me now but nevertheless, I don’t mind eating wheels of them.
We started off with the limited run George Washington Rye Whiskey, which is really done the way George Washington has done it in his own distillery in Mount Vernon as Tim. It is an unaged rye whiskey, so it lacks color and it’s quite wild yet cooling on the palate like a blanco tequila.
Moving on to the Double Cask Rye, this spirit won the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2014 and a favorite of Tim’s. The whiskey is double-matured, first in traditional oak casks and then in charred American white oak barrels. The American oak barrels were charred and air-seasoned for over two years before assembly. The Double Cask aging process extends a wonderful balance between the spicy rye notes with the mellow, caramel sweetness. Deep golden amber in color, this whiskey starts off with the aromas of caramelized wood sugar, vanilla and rye, gradually expanding into butterscotch, cinnamon and sweet spices, leading up to a long, warm finish.
The next spirit was Hillrock Estate Distillery Single Malt Whiskey. It is a remarkable single malt whiskey is created entirely from estate-grown organic barley which was floor-malted in Hillrock’s malthouse. Since little-to-no peat was used in production, the style is more indicative of an Irish whiskey rather than a heavily-peated Scotch. Both the nose and palate offer bold, spicy notes of clove, anise, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla, backed by dried fruit and creamy caramel. A trace of maple syrup appears on the long, spicy finish.
The distillery’s baby of the moment is the Solera Aged Bourbon. It is the first bourbon in the world to be aged in this manner. It is produced by marrying mature seed bourbon with mature estate bourbon, then finishing the blend in twenty-year old Oloroso sherry casks before bottling. The resulting spirit offers a pronounced nose of caramel, dried fruit, vanilla, oak and spice, accented by an elegant floral note. The complex, full-bodied palate opens with rich notes of brown sugar, molasses and toffee, quickly followed by clove, cinnamon and a touch of spicy rye. Characteristic Oloroso sherry notes of walnut, fig and candied fruit merge with caramel and butterscotch on the long, balanced finish.
When the tasting was concluded, we were surprised with a bottle of Hillrock Estate’s spirit of our choosing. Thinking back on what I’ve tasted and liked the most, I adored the Single Malt Whiskey because of its complexity and I respect how much work went into making a single malt whiskey.
After we received our bag of whiskey (or bourbon for a few), we headed back (with a buzz and bellies filled with delicious cheeses) to our own Buick cars and be driven off to dinner at Fish & Game. This will be continued…
To view more photos of this portion of the trip, please CLICK HERE or view the gallery below:[alpine-phototile-for-flickr src=”set” uid=”26389565@N00″ sid=”72157645254174000″ imgl=”flickr” shuffle=”1″ style=”gallery” row=”4″ grwidth=”1200″ grheight=”800″ size=”640″ num=”30″ shadow=”1″ border=”1″ align=”center” max=”100″]
Montgomery Place Orchards
8 Davis Way
Red Hook, NY 12504
Phone: (845) 758-8005
Hillrock Estate Distillery
408 Pooles Hill Road
Ancram, NY 12502
Public tours are available but call ahead to reserve
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