How Apple Country Spirits is Making Distilling Green

Finnriver handcrafted hard cider

Meet Apple Country Spirits, Wayne County’s first legal distillery since Prohibition. Located in Williamson, NY, Apple Country Spirits produces a very unique line of fine, fruit-based spirits.

Why fruit? Owner David W DeFisher is a fourth-generation fruit farmer, so when he decided to get into liquor distilling, it made sense to incorporate fruits into the mix.

The distillery first offering, TREE Vodka, ended up being a liquor distilled from apples grown on the family farm.

DeFisher was kind enough to answer some questions about the challenges and rewards of producing fruit vodka.

Q: What makes fruit-based spirits so different? Can you tell us a bit more about TREE Vodka and why you decided to use apples grown on the family farm?

DD: When people ask this question, I always start out with this example: If you had a juicy, ripe, red apple in one hand and a handful of grain in the other, which one would taste better if you had to choose one to eat? A delicious, raw product, is going to make a delicious distilled product! Fruit-based spirits are somewhat unique in the American craft spirits scene right now because whiskey is still currently king.

We really wanted to go out and do something different, and we wanted to use what we grow. My family has been growing fruit for over 100 years, and this is just the next step in our family business – using our apples, our peaches, cherries, raspberries, plums, etc. to make high quality spirits. In a lot of ways these spirits are unique because fruit and grain are so vastly different.

Today, most vodkas are made from grain, and whiskey has to be made from grain – grain is a much cheaper raw product to use than other ingredients. If you take an apple and cut it in half there is so much going on; the smell, the taste. It is a vastly different experience than the feelings a handful of grain will provide.

At the end of the day, we wanted to use apples for our vodka because we grow great tasting fruit and wanted to use that to make great tasting, unique products. We wanted to do our own thing instead of following the pack.

Q: How is your raspberry tree vodka unique? Do you use additional ingredients (like sugar) that are not normally used in the production of vodka?

DD: Raspberries are the newest addition to our farm and have proven to be very popular. Every raspberry is packed with flavor, so we knew we wanted to harness this sensory experience. We make an extract out of our raspberries and then add this to our standard TREE Vodka. This provides a real raspberry flavor that is so much more authentic than the artificial flavors out there today. We do add a little sugar at the end of the process because it carries the flavor and helps balance the natural tartness of the raspberry.

Q: We hear a lot about the craft beer movement and how brewers are trying to create a more natural product but also having a chance to experiment with recipes and flavors. Is this concept popular among distilleries too or do you think there’s still a lot of growth to be seen when it comes to natural vs. natural flavors/ingredients among vodka “makers”?

DD: There is definitely a lot of experimentation going on in craft distilling. Our head distiller will occasionally bring in bags full of botanicals, fruits, or roots that he finds walking around the farm to experiment with – and most have turned into delicious products. From Staghorn Sumac to rosehips – we are always looking for new and exciting ingredients to work with. This constant innovation is especially important with the popularity of the craft cocktail scene.

Q: Is the company a sustainable business? How does using locally-sourced materials help with this?

DD: From day one we wanted to be as sustainable as possible. We are not only a distillery but also a farm; as such, we depend on the land to grow what we need. We try to utilize all of the by-products created during processing.

To start, we use all of our own fruit; you can’t get more local and craft than that! The first step in vodka production is pressing out the fruit juice. This leaves us with the apple solids as a by-product. These solids get trucked to a nearby farm, and are used as cattle feed.

End-process by-products can also be useful. The heavier alcohols are not great for drinking but make a great sanitizer (think rubbing alcohol) – so we separate them out during distillation and save some of them for cleaning and sanitizing.

Q: Can you talk a bit about your plans of eventually installing your own solar energy system? Is this part of your goal of creating a sustainable business?

DD: We have been solar powered for about six months now and are incredibly happy with the way it’s going! We produce enough energy with our panels to meet most of the distillery’s electrical needs. Even during the snowy winters here in the Finger Lakes, we see decent production. Snow on the ground reflects light into the panels.

The installation of the panels was our commitment to sustainability and is the second step in our green plan. The first step was to source our raw materials from our own farm. We also made it a goal to buy the majority of our equipment from U.S. manufacturers (most of them being local). Over 90% of our equipment comes from the US; our Still comes from Vendome Copper and Brass in Louisville, KY, our tanks come from Vance Metal Works in Geneva, NY, and our apple press comes from Goodnature in Buffalo, NY.

We are very proud to say that most of what makes up our distillery comes from our very own backyard. Exciting things are definitely happening here at Apple Country Spirits!

Diana Bocco is a writer and author who writes for Yahoo!, the Discovery Channel website, Marie Claire, Poplar Mechanics, and more. You can find more about her work on her website

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