This year marks the 150th anniversary of W.H.H. Murray’s Adventures in the Wilderness, or Camp Life in the Adirondacks.
The book was published in the spring of 1869 and launched the Murray Rush into the Adirondacks, giving rise to the monikers “Adirondack Murray” and “Murray’s Fools”.
The importance of Murray and his 1869 book has gained increasing attention in the past few years, with articles in The Smithsonian and Time Magazine, as well as inclusion in recent books about camping and outdoor life. Some have gone so far as to label Murray the “Father of Camping” or the Father of the Outdoor Movement in America.”
There are several events planned in 2019 to commemorate this milestone for Adventures in the Wilderness, and many of these involve Murray’s Fools Distilling. On January 30th, the Kelly Adirondack Center of Union College opened an exhibit on Murray and his book. This event included a tasting of our spirits as well as a presentation on Murray by yours truly. The exhibit at the Kelly Adirondack Center continues until mid-May of this year.
On April 7, 2019, the Adirondack Experience (formerly known as the Blue Mountain Lake Museum) will hold a special talk on Murray’s book, entitled “Fools Rushed In: W.H.H. Murray’s Adventures in the Wilderness 150 Years Later.” MFDC will be hosting a tasting in the museum’s visitor center that day, and more information about this great event can be found here.
Also, on August 15, 2019, I will be presenting a talk on Murray and Adventures in the Wilderness at the Adirondack History Museum in Elizabethtown, New York. That event kicks off with a 6:30 pm reception.
Stay tuned for more events. With all this talking, I’m sure going to be thirsty!
I know that 2019 is going to be a very exciting year at Murray’s Fools. How do I know this? I just do. It’s a gut feeling sort of thing. We have momentum and there is no stopping us!
There are a couple of tangible signs though. First, 2019 marks the 150th anniversary of the publishing of Adventures in the Wilderness or Camp-Life in the Adirondacks, our namesake’s famous book that initiated tourism in the Adirondacks. There will be a commemorative Murray exhibit at Union College’s Kelly Adirondack Center beginning on January 31st. Adirondack Experience is also hosting a Murray themed event in April. MFDC will be participating in both of these events.
Second, our Osprey Aquavit is launching this month. I am very excited and proud to bring this creation of Sarah’s to market! Finally, we will be opening our tasting room in the spring with a new outside venue including a scenic fire-pit area, picnic tables and a band stage featuring live music.
We are going to be busy, but it’s going to be a blast!
I just finished reading Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness. This book offers a great look at how top performers (both physically and intellectually) achieve the peak performances that define them as elite. One of the elements of the book I found most interesting was the role that rest played for all of the cited top performers. Not just any rest, but purposeful rest. These athletes, workers and intellectuals all viewed rest as a critical part of their training programs and routines. Rest was not just an inconvenience that was to be tolerated, but an essential component of success. As one who has often lamented having to sleep, and viewed rest as a waste of precious time, I found the role of rest presented in Peak Performance eye-opening to say the least.
Sarah and I are now charging forward with the final build-out of our tasting room and the necessary bathroom at the distillery. Of course, we are doing this while still mashing, distilling, marketing, selling and all of the good stuff that goes with operating a craft distillery. Our current goal is to have our tasting room open by June. My goal is to be done with the build out by Memorial Day weekend. In the spirit of Peak Performance, we have promised each other a weekend of rest and retreat!
I just realized that I have not written anything for this blog in several months. In fact, the last time I contributed here there was snow on the ground around the distillery. Shame on me for letting so much time go by! Now, August has arrived and our wet summer is continuing. It seems as though it rains every day. The good news is that our distillations are not weather dependent. We have been busy this summer making vodka, monitoring our aging apple brandy and, most recently, embarking on our quest to make an Adirondack Single Malt. That last project is very exciting, and we are lucky to have found a great source for 100% New York State malt.
The other project this summer has been the installation of a septic system – the last step that must be completed before we open our tasting room. This has been a slow process, but the system is now approved and construction should start this month. We are very excited to open the tasting room and welcome our friends and soon-to-be friends and fans into the distillery.
So stay tuned…I promise to be more diligent on updates and news.
Happy New Year!
Its 2017 and that means that Sarah and I have been working at this distillery thing for two years! Looking back to January 2015, when the two of us had just decided to take a distilling course in Seattle, we have come a long way. Between our build-out, getting licensed by TTB and NYS, and producing and then selling our first bottles of vodka, we have worked a bunch and learned even more. Mistakes have been plentiful, but Sarah and I have gotten pretty good at using those errors as learning moments and not letting them bog us down.
Looking forward, we believe we are in for a very exciting year at Murray’s Fools. We have apple brandy resting in beautiful new oak barrels from our friends at U.S. Barrel. We are in the middle of producing our third batch of our SnowShoe Vodka (batches 1-2 have sold out!). Our first whiskey mash will soon begin, and gin won’t be too far behind that!
Of course, production is only half the game. We plan to have our product(s) in liquor stores, local restaurants and bars no later than the springtime. In addition, we will be attending many farmer’s markets this year, bringing our spirits to sample and sell.
2017 is going to be exciting, so hold on to your hats and keep watching our progress!
Well it’s been a very busy and interesting first few months of operation at Murray’s Fools Distilling. This will be a brief update for those of you following our progress, but, first, the answer to the question I have been asked the most: our first bottling of The Snow Shoe Vodka should be out in a few weeks. That will be very exciting for all of us!
So what have we been doing lately? A whole lot of mashing and distilling of course! As a farm craft distillery, we cannot purchase neutral grain spirits and turn that into vodka. Instead, we have to make our own NGS first, and then turn that into our handcrafted vodka. That means many stripping runs of the still, followed by spirit runs to produce the 190 Proof NGS that will be the backbone of our craft distilled vodka.
In addition to mashing and distilling, Sarah has successfully navigated her way to our first COLA – Certificate of Label Approval – the federal approval necessary for each label, and then obtained our State approval for the same label.
Sarah has also captained the bottle selection effort. Our first bottle delivery is due within the week, and we are very excited! I am sure there will be pictures of the delivery event on Facebook when it happens.
We have also been working on our tasting room. Three of the interior walls are ready to paint, and one has been completed in salvaged barn board for a very cool, rustic look. We have been sanding the ambrosia maple slabs that will become the top of the tasting bar, and soon will be installing the ceiling. It is all coming together fairly quickly, and, with any luck, we will be able raise our tasting glasses in the official tasting room by the end of the summer.
The adventure continues.
Sarah and I have found that our distillery start-up is a great conversation piece. People seem to be very interested in the making of spirits and, of course, spirits themselves. Each of these conversations always includes one question from the other party: How did you get into this? The first couple of times Sarah or I was confronted with this simple question, we stammered a bit. There were many answers to the question, but we had not quite worked out a concise and coherent one. While we had devoted quite a bit of time and effort in developing a business plan, and spent hours talking our plans and dreams through, we really had never stopped and really thought about the why.
Having been faced with answering that ubiquitous question enough times, I decided to take some time and find a concise and coherent response. However, like most questions in life, even the seemingly simple ones, it turned out that there is not a single answer. From my perspective, we have started on this journey for five primary reasons.
First, Sarah and I are happiest when we are creative. This creative urge was awakened within me through my relationship with Sarah. Her creativity and openness to new experiences brought those latent attributes out of me. Beginning a craft distillery has fed our need to be creative and learn. From the name of the business, to the selection of the equipment, to the process engineering and naming of the spirits, this venture requires a great deal of creativity and thought. We are thriving on this.
Second, we actually enjoy working together. Since we have been a couple, Sarah and I have worked well together. Our talents and competencies are complimentary, making our teamwork extremely efficient and fruitful. We have recognized this for many years, and have been waiting for the opportunity to take our teamwork to a business level. Craft distilling is that opportunity.
Third, we enjoy fine food, wine and spirits. Luckily for our waistlines, overall health, and bank accounts, we tend to naturally enjoy all these things in moderation. We also enjoy food and beverages when they are locally produced and we can talk to those who made them. There is something special about speaking to the farmer, chef, vintner, brewer or distiller and hearing their stories and their whys. We find it fun and meaningful. Our craft distilling start-up allows us to become a part of this tradition.
Fourth, as we have grown older, the natural world has become more and more important to us. We love our farmhouse and surrounding lands in the Adirondacks. We love hiking and kayaking in the Adirondacks and in Maine. There is personal empowerment and restoration that comes from spending time in nature. These are two of the core principles that W.H.H. Murray sought to instill in American culture throughout his life. These principles have become important parts of Sarah’s and my life, and we want to impart that through our spirits. We want you to drink a bit of the fine, while experiencing Nature’s restorative powers.
Finally, the timing is right. The craft distilling industry is in its beginning stages, much like craft brewing was twenty or thirty years ago. The industry is humming and the people we meet are super interesting and inspirational. We feel it’s a great time to try something new and join the craft distillery movement.
So, is there an “elevator pitch” to sum all of this up? Maybe…
“Our craft distilling start-up allows us to feed our creative cravings and take advantage of complimentary talents, while indulging our passion for fine, local beverages and advocate for the restorative importance of nature.”
Oh, and the timing seems right.
It’s Getting Exciting...
After devoting many weekends to premises fit up and anxiously awaiting the arrival of our equipment, we happily submitted our distillery application to the New York State Liquor Authority on February 11th! Today, we are both going to be fingerprinted – a necessary step in the state application process. That’s probably one of the few times anyone is pleased to be getting fingerprinted!
Having obtained our federal Basic Permit and now submitted our state application, we definitely have a better understanding of both the regulatory side of the spirits business as well as all of the tedious backroom work that craft distillers have gone through to get their beloved products on the shelves.
With all of the heavy work completed, Sarah and I now find ourselves excitedly waiting the day when we can open the doors to the distillery and start making product. The good news is that we are still ahead of schedule, and have plenty of other tasks to keep us busy. Still, it is very exciting to know we are so close to being able to let the spirits flow.
This past weekend Sarah and I chose our respective lockers (useful for storing our civilian accoutrements when we are working) in the distillery and placed our nameplates on them. You may be surprised to learn that neither of the nameplates contain “Randall” or “Sarah.” We decided to forego our given and family names and have some fun. I’ll let Sarah explain her new “distiller’s moniker” but mine is:
I chose this name because Henry Herbert is a leading character in many of W.H.H. Murray’s Adirondack Tales, and embodies many of the characteristics I value. A dear friend and constant companion of John Norton the Trapper, Murray’s primary Adirondack character, Henry Herbert is at once a well-educated gentlemen and experienced outdoorsman; a man very much like Murray himself.
Henry Herbert is introduced to the reader, and to John Norton himself, in The Story That the Keg Told Me, an entertaining warning against miserly tendencies set on an unnamed Adirondack lake. There the Trapper recognizes the strong love of nature Henry Herbert harbors, remarking, in his woodsman’s dialect, “Henry, the Lord has been very marciful and gracious-like in his treatment of ye, - for I have heard ye to be a great scholar, and love the knowledge that the schools give…but depend on it, Henry, the best gift the Lord has given ye is yer love of natur’ and the that things that go with it – a keen eye, a quick finger, a strong back, and a conscience that can meet him in the solitude of these waters and hills and not be afeered.”
Henry Herbert and John Norton have a long and close friendship, enjoying further adventures in The Man Who Didn’t Know Much, Henry Herbert’s Thanksgiving, How John Norton the Trapper Kept his Christmas, and other Adirondack stories. Throughout, Henry is portrayed as a loyal, loving gentlemen who is equally at home in his elegant house in the city, the rushing rapids of the northern rivers, and the deep woods of the wilderness. He is a crack shot, an expert oarsman and second only to the Trapper in the various arts of the natural world. Henry is well-read and wise, enjoying substantial success in the more-civilized world where such things are important.
My grandfather created the character of John Norton partially in answer to a challenge he received from Ralph Waldo Emerson. In Norton, Murray created an idealized “New England man who, having lived his life in the woods, has had developed in him those virtues and qualities of head and heart, of mind and soul, in harmony with his life-long surroundings.” Juxtaposed with the Trapper, Henry Herbert is a more balanced being, a civilized gentlemen who has great knowledge and love of the outdoors.
Herbert embraces the solitude of the wilderness recognizing that only in doing so he is complete.
The dream kicked off in March with our research and distilling class in Seattle. Since then our lives have been propelled forward with our passion! After receiving our approval from the TTB and having our Federal license in hand, we began clean up and construction of what was to be our weekend home for the remainder of the year!
We began construction the last week in September, transforming an old workshop into a small 'mom and pop' craft distillery. Only able to drive the 2 1/2 hrs to work on available weekends, we've managed to accomplish a tremendous amount over the last three months working only 17 days with a total of 192 team hours!
BEFORE | 9.26.2015
PROGRESS UPDATE VIDEO BLOG | 12.20.2015
Co-founder of Murray's Fools Distilling Co. | Altona. NY