Five New York Distilleries Bringing Out the Best in Bourbon

As featured at Wine Enthusiast

BY MARSHALL TILDEN IIITaconic Distillery's BourbonTaconic Distillery’s Bourbon / Photo by Catherine Frost

New York has become quite the hot spot when it comes to Bourbon production.

Contrary to popular belief, Bourbon does not have to be made in Kentucky. In fact, the spirit can be produced anywhere in the United States as long as the mash to be distilled is at least 51% corn and the spirit is aged in new charred oak barrels.

What started as a few scattered upstart distilleries has transformed into a full-fledged Bourbon movement in the Empire State. You can find Bourbon operations throughout New York that match the quality of many of Kentucky’s historic distilleries.

Here are five of New York’s finest producers. They craft world-class Bourbon and offer enjoyable tasting experiences.

Tuthilltown Spirits

Tuthilltown, the first post-Prohibition distillery in New York, also produced the state’s first Bourbon, dubbed Hudson Baby Bourbon.

Although the distiller recently transformed its labels and brand names, the storied bottling, now dubbed Hudson Whiskey NY Bright Lights, Big Bourbon, is still a quintessential example. It has classic notes of caramel, spice and vanilla that are mild and approachable.

With the Jellystone Lazy River Campgrounds just a mile away, a visit here makes for the perfect day-trip excursion if you need to sip on something with a little kick while spending a weekend camping with the family. Don’t forget to also try its extensive line of rye whiskeys while you’re there.

Founder of Black Button Distilling Jason Barrett (L) and Master Distiller Jeff Fairbrother (R)
Founder of Black Button Distilling, Jason Barrett (L), and Master Distiller, Jeff Fairbrother (R) / Photo by James Bougue

Black Button Distilling

Black Button Distilling is home to a variety of complex and intriguing spirits. Based in Rochester, 90% of Black Button’s ingredients are grown in New York. And Black Button’s whiskeys are truly expressive of the character of the local corn and wheat.

Black Button Distilling's Four Grain Straight Bourbon
Black Button Distilling’s Four Grain Straight Bourbon / Photo by Gary Ledgerwood

Its entry-level whiskey, Four Grain Straight Bourbon (60% corn mash), is smooth and delivers a spicy finish. But its Single-Barrel and Double-Barrel Straight Bourbons showcase intense vanilla, oak and caramel notes. They exude balance with long, silky finishes.

If you’re an Irish cream fan, check out the Bespoke Bourbon Cream. Its sweet vanilla notes compliment the creamy texture and flavor.

Hillrock Distilling owners Jeffery Baker and Cathy Franklin
Hillrock Distilling owners Jeffery Baker and Cathy Franklin / Photo by Pierre Auguste

Hillrock Estate Distillery

This widely accoladed distillery is a legacy of the renowned late master distiller Dave Pickerell.

Hillrock is one of the few “field-to-glass” whiskey producers in the world, meaning the grain for its mash is all estate grown. Hillrock Estate is also the first American distillery since before Prohibition to craft whiskey on site from estate-grown grain.

Kara Newman, the spirits editor at Wine Enthusiast, gave the distillery’s popular Solera-Aged Bourbon a 96-point rating, noting its “peach and vanilla aromas, bold raisin and brown sugar flavors and a gentle exit that just hints at Sherry.”

Like many of the other distilleries, Hillrock Estate is in the Hudson Valley. Visit its early 19th-century restored Georgian house, taste its line of handcrafted spirits and enjoy the stunning landscapes.

Catskill Distilling Company

Nestled directly across from where the original Woodstock music festival took place (now the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts), Catskill Distilling is as innovative with its branding as it’s meticulous about spirit production.

The creative juices are on full display, from its 1960s-themed Peace Vodka to the The One and Only Buckwheat.

Most notable is its The Most Righteous Bourbon… and most righteous it is! It earned a 93-point score from Wine Enthusiast, where it’s “bold caramel and toffee aromas” proceeded a “long, mouthwatering finish.”

Bottling at Taconic Distillery
Bottling at Taconic Distillery / Photo by Catherine Frost

Taconic Distillery

Taconic, founded in 2013, is a relative newcomer to the state’s Bourbon game.

Its pet foxhound Copper (named after the color of their bourbon) graces each and every bottle. Located in scenic Hudson Valley, Taconic’s line of whiskeys now makes waves on a national scale.

The Dutchess Private Reserve Bourbon is an easy sipper that offers gentle notes of honey and vanilla. However, their Barrel Strength Bourbon is significantly bolder and deeper at 57.5% alcohol by volume (abv), so you might want to sit down with this body-warming selection.

Taconic’s farmhouse tasting room is located nearby to both Millbrook and Clinton Vineyards, two winery staples in the Hudson Valley. There are few better ways to spend a day than to sip on whiskey and wine amid the area’s abundant natural beauty.

Some Serious Spirits at The Catskill Distilling Company

About 100 miles north of Westchester is where you can find the original grounds of the infamous Woodstock festival in Bethel. For those of us that were too young to attend, there hasn’t been much reason to head up that way in years past. But as of late there has been a bit of a renaissance in the area.

Neighboring Monticello has transformed its Raceway into a Casino while boutique art galleries and small shops are popping up left and right. The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts is a great place to see a show or check out the history of Woodstock itself. But most intriguing (for me anyway) is the new kick ass distillery and saloon that opened right across the street from Bethel Woods.

I stopped in the Catskill Distilling Company recently and met with owner and Distiller/Veternarian Monte Sachs. He graciously showed me around the joint and explained the inner workings of his personal grown up playground. The set up is quite impressive including his mashing/milling room, the expedited barrel aging shed and of course his custom made copper still.

My visit was randomly well timed as he was distilling his Most Righteous Bourbon that day, and most righteous it is! It was being collected at the white dog stage…pretty cool to be able to sample it before the barrel aging process (at around 65-70% alcohol!). Following his in depth tour we sampled the finished product next to some other well known premium bourbons that basically dominate the market. While everyone’s palate varies, the Most Righteous clearly out shined the competition with more intense aromas, flavors and amazing balance…not what I expected!

To be honest, all the spirits being produced there really impressed. His Defiant Rye is spicy and oily packed with lemon citrus goodness. The Wicked White Whiskey is their version of moonshine, and while it has a definite bite to it, the six grain spirit is expressive while not overpowering on the alcohol. But my favorite booze in the Catskill Spirit portfolio has to be the Curious Gin. Made with 14 different  botanicals and local juniper berries, it is as lovely, fruity and floral as it is clean, herbal and balanced. It has become my house gin for Martinis and Negronis, and at $20 a bottle it’s very affordable to keep stocked.

You can check out their website to see all their homemade spirits, distillery history and some fun cocktail recipes as well. And if you are ever up seeing a show or checking out the Woodstock Museum at Bethel Woods, this place is not to be missed. Bring the family as the Dancing Cat Saloon (also owned by Monte) is right next door with some good eats and a  solid selection of brews.

Salute!