Murray’s Fools Distilling Co., located in Altona, is the first distillery operating in Clinton County, New York since Prohibition. As a new business in an industry historically shrouded in legal and political ups and downs, I thought it would be interesting and entertaining to see who was operating in the area before us.
When we began our adventure I did some quick research to see who the movers and shakers in the distilling world were during the last couple of centuries. In my first shallow dig I found…nothing. Finding it hard to believe we were the first ever legal distillery in the area, I sought out resources that could help me dig deeper and, sure enough, once I found a couple of breadcrumbs I was on my way to discovering some interesting facts about distilling in Clinton County pre-pro!
I found a few not so prominent characters such as Mr. WM Flack who operated right next door to Colonel Fillimore’s Tavern located in Chazy Village, and who, in the early 1800’s, was trying to sell his brewery and distillery ‘…very cheap’ as advertised in the Plattsburgh Republican.
Another gentleman, James Kennedy of Plattsburgh Distillery, was seen regularly advertising in the Plattsburgh Republican in the mid-1800s. Kennedy offered quarts of whiskey in exchange for bushels of rye and corn.
There was even rumored to be a man named Joseph Blanchard who was arrested in 1899 in Churubusco for having an illegal distillery hidden in his house, known as the "Old Martin Homestead". It was said that his distillery was capable of turning out four barrels of whiskey a day and that local detectives had been watching the man suspiciously for 15 years.
The most recognized distillery of note however was Isaac Merkel & Sons. Merkel ran both a brewery and a distillery which made whiskey. Their flagship brand was called "Bachelor Rye," named for his son Aaron. Other brands included "Clinton County Club," Wedding Bouquet," and "Wedding Bouquet Pure Rye." Merkel operated facilities in both Plattsburgh and Saranac Lake, and was in business roughly from 1878 until the start of Prohibition, c. 1919.
Merkel and his wife set out for the United States from Germany in 1867 and settled in Plattsburgh, Clinton County, New York. He first worked as a peddler as he and his wife started their family of five children. Later, he established a brewery, a distillery and distributorship, and ultimately a department store.
His son, David, was listed as his partner in the whiskey business, Isaac Merkel & Sons. A 1913 Plattsburgh city directory lists them as “rectifiers and wholesale liquor dealers, bottlers and jobbers in cigars.” Their plant and office was at 56-50 Bridge St. and their retail store at 22-24 Bridge.
Co-founder of Murray's Fools Distilling Co. | Altona, NY