Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Can Do Attitude – Hudson Whiskey

Hudson Whiskey
Monday 13th October 2014 the makers of Hudson Whiskey came to old Sydney town. Though you may not be fully aware of the brand yet (for Aussies that is), Hudson Whiskey acts like a beacon of light for what craft distillation is all about. Hand crafted in a true sense of the word there is something to be admired, not just in this whiskies profile, but in the men that have built it from the grass roots up.

Still making head roads into Australia Hudson Whiskey is an established brand throughout the United States of America. Proudly laying claim to being the first whiskey distillery in New York State since Prohibition, Ralph Erenzo distiller and co-founder of Hudson Whiskey pioneered the grounds for legislature changes in 2007 that have delivered the boom in craft distillation throughout the region. Now with William Grant & Sons partnering to the distillery the Hudson Whiskey brand is seeing venture far in excesses of what Ralph quotes “I never imagined it would be so big”.

Ralph Erenzo displaying the technique of opening a Hudson Whiskey bottle
I arrived early to an small industry tasting at the The Commons in Darlinghurst, Sydney with the intention of grabbing a few shots and maybe a quick word with the lads. Luckily I was granted extended access to sit down with both distiller and co-founder Ralph Erenzo and Brand Ambassador Tony Vanaria to discuss the distillery, the products, and talk shop on just what goes into making hand crafted whiskey. Being old friends from school both Ralph and Tony mesh together like Yin and Yang leaving virtually none of my questions unanswered. I got the feeling they wanted to engage in a conversation I am sure they have had a few thousand times but never get sick of. Ralph made a point about the fact that when he started Hudson Whiskey he had no idea what he was doing at all. After purchasing the land to establish a lodge for the local rock climbing community, Ralph was forced into a situation to change his business direction through local objections. As the property had an established operational gristmill on the grounds, Ralph decided to make whiskey as a new venture. This venture required a lot of learning. Learning not just in whiskey production but in political lobbying in order to get laws changed to make the idea profitable. Sound familiar? Did our own Bill Lark or Lark Distillery not have all the same problems.

Getting to grips with Hudson Whiskey in The Commons front bar
So of course you can’t talk whiskey unless you have the product in front of you and there was no better place to start than Hudson Whiskey’s Baby Bourbon. Only ever experiencing this bourbon in a whisky saturated environment (The Whisky Show) I was glad to be trying it out on it’s own for the with no outside influences. On pouring a dram the Baby Bourbon's colour literally exploded from the glass. I was truly mesmerised by it. While admiring the flame orange spectrum you could see the viscous nature of the whiskey just stick to the glass. Looking into the whisky resting in the glass light fragmented into a kaleidoscope of colours emphasising the oily nature of the liquid. Ralph commented that the colour is due to the variation in barrel sizes from 3 gallons and up giving the whisky an emphasised wood influence, while the texture is due to a method of only using paper filtration before bottling. With no one to tell Ralph how to make whisky, the petite 3 gallon barrels delivered one of many “happy accidents” that stuck. These barrels are still used in their flagship expression The Baby Bourbon to this day. Long live the Baby Bourbon!

While continuing our discussion Tony quickly dashed off to return with a healthy dram of the Hudson Manhattan Rye. Now this I had never had before. Sporting the same flame orange colour as the Baby Bourbon you would be hard pressed to tell the difference on colour alone until you received a whiff of the nose. Wow what a dram. Ralph noted this was his favourite of all the expressions and I can certainly see why. A 100% rye whiskey it holds grassy notes on the nose with a hint of light spice and maple wood sweetness. Genuinely unique as a rye goes and judging by the fact I had consumed the glass without evening knowing says there is something special going on.

The industry tasting
Before heading into The Commons front bar for the official tasting I had to queried Ralph on the bottle shape. I had mentioned there is a stigma in this country to bottle shapes and generally if a bottle does not look like something traditionally used in Scotland then there must be something wrong with it. Ralph was quick to tell me the shape is a design created by himself not just for presentation purposes but also to work effectively at the 375ml size. By choosing this size consumers are not committed to drinking an entire 750ml bottle (US standard size) and would be more confident in buying something smaller to try. Though the bottle still translates well at 500ml sizes he is yet to figure out a design to fit a 750ml. No matter to me as I personally find the bottle is an awesome pack and play size. While on the subject of bottles and not to miss an opportunity I had Ralph and Tony sign a bottle as a memento of the occasion. Tony was highly impressed saying “…this was only the second time anyone had asked him for a signature”. Well Tony I am sure there is many more to come.

Moving inside we were treated to an inspiring talk by both Ralph and Tony about Hudson whiskey the brand. Laid out in front of us was the following Hudson Whiskey’s for tasting: Baby Bourbon; Manhattan Rye; Four Grain Bourbon; Single Malt. All very similar in colour the Single Malt was the one displaying any real noticeable variation to the others and even that was only slightly. I had noticed that all the whiskies are bottled at 46% ABV. Tony later mentioned currently all Hudson Whiskey is bottle at that percentage.

The Commons cellar bar and ambient mood
The Baby Bourbon is a 100% corn whiskey bottled at 46% ABV. Full flavoured it held distinctive notes of vanilla, corn and sweet grilled bacon. A very pleasant dram and all to easy to drink.

The Manhattan Rye is a 100% rye based whiskey bottled at 46% ABV. With an initial grassy scent and spice hit it is true to say with a bit of air this rye quickly displays sweet maple wood caramels.

The Four Grain Bourbon is a unique 4 grain combined mash featuring 60% corn, 25% rye, 10% wheat and 5% malted barley while being bottled at 46% ABV. I really loved this whisky as it was super smooth and balanced in all the right places. Extremely round in the mouth it was hard to pick any one flavour but instead I just wanted to sit back to appreciate the harmony that was going on in the mouth.

The Single Malt sports 100% malted barley bottled at 46% ABV. Very different to the Scottish cousins Ralph comment that it is the new american oak barrels and the char finish that is bringing something really unique to the table. I found it held notes of vanilla malt, green barley, paper dust, and a seafoodesque quality of shellfish, prawns and oysters.

Pouring of a cocktail and Mark Little starting the evenings proceedings
When the industry tasting was well and truly over I kicked back for a couple of hours dramming on with a Hudson Whiskey in hand while I waited for the evenings Hudson dinner to continue in The Commons cellar bar. An unexpected treat we enjoyed an excellent dinner of oven bagged salmon, fried chicken wings and Hudson Whiskey glazed american ribs. A 3 piece live band played in the corner while cocktails and whiskey were served amongst the guests. Ralph and Tony took heads of the table placement presiding of the feast while spinning a yarn to two. I wish I did not have to leave so early but family calls.

The crowd and various dishes served
An outstanding learning experience for myself. I need to say I cannot fault these whiskies as they really display exceptional qualities as unique as the characters who created them. I would be proud to have Hudson Whiskey on my shelf anytime. Soon to be retailed in Dan Murphy’s, it won’t be long before Hudson Whiskey becomes a game changer in American whisky appreciation in Australia. The more I think about it the more Ralph is spot on about that bottle size.

A special mention has to go out to Ralph and Tony for chatting with me like old friends. These are men of real gumption ruled by a passion displaying the can do attitude that any aspiring distiller should take to heart. A big thank you also goes out to William Grant & Sons for inviting me along as you are all too generous.

The Baron