What better is there to do on a sunny fall day than blow off work and drive out to a local distillery for a private tour? I can’t think of much, so here’s my take on a tour of Adirondack Distilling Company in Utica, New York.
Living in Syracuse I’ve always felt away from the action going on in Kentucky. Over the past year or so I’ve really started to realize that great local distilleries are just a short drive away. Except for those folks living in the middle of nowhere, I would guess that with six hundred something and growing distilleries around the country most anyone can jump in their car and get to at least one craft distillery within the confines of a normal day.
On this day we had the opportunity to tour Adirondack Distilling Company, aka “ADK,” located in the small city of Utica NY, about an hour east of Syracuse. Of the three Breaking Bourbon co-creators, Eric and I attended. Through some good fortune I was given an introduction to the founders / owners / master distillers… call them what you want they put their heart and souls into the business… Jordan Karp and Bruce Elwell.
In addition to distilling, Bruce is a practicing Physician, so I’m guessing he’s waiting until retirement to catch up on sleep. He’s well spoken, sincere, approachable, and immediately I can tell he’s smart as a whip. He later tells us he built his first distillation equipment when he was a young boy and it would have worked had the welds not broken. I said BUILT if you didn’t catch it the first time. He grew up in the area and his pride in his hometown is evident.
Jordan’s a younger guy, about my own age, and has a gung-ho spirit about him. He’s passionate about the business and gave the best explanation of how the distillation process works I’ve heard yet. He’s obviously technically savvy even after just a few years in the business. He grew up on Long Island, moved to DC to work in politics, then decided one day he’d much rather distill spirits. He described his epiphany as looking at a bottle of vodka one night wondering what making it was all about. He started to dig deeper into that question and decided it’d be a hell of a lot better than what he was doing. Through a mutual friend they joined forces and started ADK.
ADK’s building is an historic landmark and once served as a bank. It’s odd-shaped, being on a corner that’s at about a 30 degree angle, so it’s kind of like the shape of a slice of pizza. You enter right at the tip through large glass doors. Tall windows adorn the walls allowing for a great deal of natural light to highlight the distillation equipment. It’s a Carl system, which I estimated a cost of about $150,000 although they didn’t confirm the exact figure. They have the space and plans for a second system that would sit to the left of and mirror the first. A cook was happening back in the far left-hand corner. Their single mash tun sits with it’s top about about knee high so you can easily see the mash being stirred. Through a round hole cut into the floor the mash tun comes to rest down on the floor in the basement. There’s a balcony overlooking the entire distillery, which I would guess is where their offices are located… we didn’t go up there. The distillery cats, Gin and Tonic, were also perched up there watching over the distillery.
I was really surprised to learn that they have a basement. I was thinking they aged their bourbon off site, but it turns out it’s all aged down in the basement. Bottling, filtering, and storage also take place down there, so everything from start to finish happens on site. Because the building is an old bank there’s a vault which is used for storage. We asked about the temperature fluctuation for aging because it felt pretty cool, but Jordan said it does change quite a bit and gets warm in the summer. On a side note, I remember seeing a Chip Tate (Balcones) video where he talked about aging in a cool place deliberately, so maybe there’s something to it.
We got talking about other distilleries, and it’s interesting that Jordan and Bruce think of neighboring craft distilleries as collaborators rather than competition. They talked of the other spirits produced locally that they enjoy and actually have on their own shelves at home. Jordan considers the bourbon boom more of a craft explosion than of increases in sales from the large brands. We’ve all seen the articles out there on what’s considered craft, but we have to agree that consumers seem to be after the different, better, often pricier stuff. I certainly am. Craft fits that bill.