Historic Whiskey from Mount Vernon’s Distillery Crafted at Hillrock Estate Distillery

Historic whiskey crafted at Hillrock Estate Distillery

From field-to-glass distilled whiskey was the dream of entrepreneur Jeff Baker, founder of Hillrock Estate Distillery. Hillrock is proud to be one of the few “field-to-glass” whiskey producers in the world and the first U.S. distillery since before Prohibition to floor malt and handcraft whiskey on site from estate grown grain. Hillrock’s commitment to quality embodies the rich history of artisanal distilling in the Hudson Valley. Every aspect of production is controlled, from planting and harvesting heirloom grains, smoking its malt and crafting whiskeys in a copper pot still, to aging in small oak barrels and hand bottling. This is the template for creating the highest quality whiskeys that reflect the Hudson Valley’s unique local terroir.

In the early 1800s, New York produced more than half the young nation’s barley and rye. The Hudson Valley was the country’s breadbasket. With abundant high-quality grain, local craft spirits flourished and more than 1000 farm distilleries produced whiskey and gin reflecting the unique terroir of the region. In the 1930s, Prohibition forced these distilleries to shut their doors and this wellspring of American spirits was left dry.

Hillrock Estate Distillery is changing this. The grain is floor malted in the distillery’s Malt House (believed to be the first since Prohibition) and craft-distilled in a copper pot still. It is then aged in fine oak and hand bottled on the estate.  “Having a floor malting operation next to our distillery means that we can experiment,” Baker notes. “We have had some discussions about what the impact of using peat could be on rye and other grains. We’re also experimenting with other smoke too from fruitwood and nut wood.”

Overseeing the distilling process is Master Distiller David Pickerell and distiller Tim Welly. Pickerell, an industry icon and previously Master Distiller for Makers Mark, directs Hillrock’s production and operations. Dave has more than 20 years of distillery industry experience and is respected worldwide as one of the top Master Distillers and spirits experts in the industry.

By now you must be wondering, what does Hillrock Estate Distillery have to do with George Washington, first President of the United States, and Mount Vernon? Washington was responsible for creating one of the largest whiskey-making operations in 18th century America. Based on Washington’s original whiskey recipe, Hillrock’s George Washington Rye is an un-aged spirit brimming with notes of fresh grain, peppery spice and a touch of dried herbs. Each bottle contains a portion of whiskey made in Washington’s stills at the reconstructed distillery on the museum grounds in Mount Vernon, Virginia.

Working from Washington’s original recipe for rye whiskey, Hillrock joined forces with Mount Vernon to expand production and distribution of the authentic 18th- century spirit by introducing “George Washington’s Rye Whiskey – Estate Edition” to New York. The special-edition un-aged whiskey is available in retail locations and Hillrock’s Distillery.

“The General’s whiskey has captured many hearts since the first batch created for the public in 2009,” said Mount Vernon’s president, Curt Viebranz. “We partnered with Hillrock because we simply can’t make enough of our product at George Washington’s Distillery to meet the demand. This allows us to offer a taste of our historic whiskey to a wider audience without fundamentally changing the historic character and the fascinating story that makes the product so unique.”

Sitting on a hilltop overlooking the distillery is an elegant 1806 Georgian house built by a successful grain merchant and Revolutionary War captain. Baker found the home in Washington County, had it dismantled and transported to his 110-acre Columbia County farm where he had it meticulously restored to its original structure. His goal is to have his farm certified organic, part of his support of the farm-to-table movement that has taken hold in the Hudson Valley. In the near future, Baker is also planning to make the distillery visitor-friendly with the ability to host 40-person dinners, as well as offering an outdoor patio and a tasting room.

This is the second story in the series “A Whiskey Rebellion: Craft distilling in the Hudson Valley.”

Margaret was public relations director for two luxury New York City hotels, where she did extensive research into America's culinary heritage. She is a founding member of The James Beard Foundation; formerly, owner of a Jersey Shore inn and restaurant, The Pelican Bistro, recognized as one of the 10 Best New Restaurants in NJ by New Jersey Monthly, and a PR consultant to restaurateurs. For the past several years she has been a contributing writer about food, drink and restaurant news for many publications. She is a passionate cook and wine lover who moved to the Hudson Valley and is in awe of the immense wealth of agricultural, artisanal and culinary talent in the area. Connect with her at www.TastefulLiving.net, Hudson Valley Wine & Restaurant Examiner and Shore Region Food & Restaurant Examiner. She can be reached at mmorgan531@gmail.com.

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