From the Edible Hudson 2012-2013 edition

High Spirits In The Catskills

The ancient alchemists of the Middle East referred to the vapors collected in the making of their medicinal tonics as “spirits.” It remains an especially apt word for the ineffable elixirs being conjured up by Monte Sachs, the dedicated craftsman behind the Catskill Distilling Company in Sullivan County, which he owns with wife Stacy Cohen. More than 30 years ago, while attending veterinary school at the University of Pisa in Italy, he learned to make grappa the traditional way from an octogenarian farm worker named Bernardino. After decades of practicing equine medicine in upstate New York, Sachs turned his hand to distilling spirits in small batches, using many of the old-world methods he learned in Italy.

The name of his first product, the award-winning Peace Vodka, launched in 2011 and distilled with water from the Catskill spring thaw, alludes to the distillery’s location in Bethel, New York, across from the site of the original Woodstock festival. It inspired the equally funky monikers of Sachs’s three latest introductions: Most Righteous Bourbon, Wicked White Whiskey and Curious Gin. Whimsical names aside, these spirits merit serious consideration. All are crafted with precision from local grains in beautifully burnished, custom-made copper pot stills and carefully overseen to extract only the essential “heart of hearts” from each distillation. The residual mash from this process is sent to Halloran Family Farm in Callicoon Center, where it feeds a herd of red stag destined for such bastions of fine dining as Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

Peace Vodka received a ringing endorsement from F. Paul Pacult’s Spirit Journal, eliciting descriptors such as “earthy,” “buttery,” “appealingly complex” and “intensely grainy.” Awarded a gold medal in the 2012 New York Food and Wine Classic, it is earning some respect for a spirit shunned over the past few years in favor of its darker and aged brethren. New York City’s Cookshop restaurant in Chelsea utilizes Peace Vodka, combining it with beach plum liqueur and cucumber soda for a refreshing seasonal cocktail they call the “New Cumber.”

Most Righteous Bourbon is a finely balanced tribute to the transformative powers of time and technique on good-quality corn, rye and malt. Sachs worked with the legendary master distiller Lincoln Henderson (of Woodford Reserve fame) to perfect its smooth, spicy flavor.

“Much of the way this whiskey tastes is attributed to my accelerated maturation house,” says Sachs, referring to his specially designed setup that cycles ambient temperatures up to 140 degrees every four to five weeks. “This way I get to drink the good stuff before I die,” jokes the robust 60-year-old.

Wicked White Whiskey is an unaged spirit commonly known as moonshine, but Catskill Distilling Company’s interpretation is a smoother, more sophisticated version than most. Their Curious Gin – which required about 200 gallons worth of experimentation to get the botanicals just right – is a clean, crisp rendition featuring local juniper berries, cucumber, grains of paradise and other artfully balanced aromatics. The success of these new introductions bodes well for what Sachs has in store: rye and wheat whiskeys; Otay Buckwheat (not classified as a whiskey since it’s distilled from buckwheat, a pseudocereal); and grappa, made from Muscat grapes grown in the Finger Lakes region, a taste of which in all its sultry, floral beauty pays tribute to the tutelage of Bernardino and to the alchemical wizardry of Monte Sachs.
– Laura Silverman

CATSKILL DISTILLING COMPANY
2037 Route 17B, Bethel
845.583.8569 catskilldistillingcompany.com

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Catskill Distilling Co.
2037 State Route 17B
Bethel NY, 12720
(845) 583-8569
info@CatskillDistilling.com
Hours:
Call for an appointment or...
Memorial Day to Labor Day:
Tue- Sun 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Off-season:
Fri -Sun 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.