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!
Just about one year ago, Sarah and I began building out our distillery space on Rand Hill Road. We had our TTB Basic Permit in hand, but no state license yet. For those following along, you know that we started with basic, four wall space, and that in the fall of 2015 and winter of 2016, we cut out and made doors, erected walls, plumbed, ran electrical lines this way and painted. We were literally building our dream.
This fall, we have put our construction hats away and are happily spending our time making vodka and apple brandy. Our construction this winter will be limited to final touches to our tasting room.
It can be tempting at times to sit and think that Sarah and I built our distillery ourselves. That would, though, be wrong. We have had a lot of help this year from family and friends. So, as this is November, in the spirit of Thanksgiving I would like to publically thank all of you who helped us, who have supported us along this very beginning of our dream.
Even though the “back to school” displays are in the stores, it’s still the middle of August and still summer! When we are not working at our day jobs or working at the distillery, we spend as much time outdoors as possible. Recently most of our down time has come after 8 or 9pm, but we still manage to find the outdoors through sitting on porches and decks (depending on our location). These are usually quiet moments of rest, reflection and sometimes a nice cocktail.
This summer, I have been fixated on a cool cocktail I refer to as a modified whiskey cooler. My whiskey cooler concoction consists of whiskey, Grand Marnier, ginger ale and sometimes a rhubarb syrup or a dash of sugar. Bourbon or Rye will work as the base spirit, but I think rye works better here. Served with ice, it makes a great summer cocktail.
I have also just discovered Ardbeg Corryvreckan. I bought the bottle on our way up to Maine, and am so glad I did. It’s a beautiful and delicious scotch whiskey. Of course it’s from Islay and that means a load of peat. The smoky creosote greets you as soon as you pour from bottle to glass. I also smell a lot of dark chocolate. Corryvreckan is a super chewy and spicy mouthful. It’s all there and then some. Sarah likes it too.
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.
For several years, craft distillers across the country have been fighting for the passage of federal legislation that would bring federal excise tax parity and reduction to this nation’s growing craft distillery movement. This April, we came close to getting an amendment included in the Federal Aviation Appropriations Bill that would accomplish this objective. While that amendment, the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act, was discarded along with a slew of other tax-related amendments, the fight for this reformation continues.
Why is Federal Excise Tax parity and reduction important to craft distillers? Simply put, the proposal is to reduce the excise tax from $13.50 per proof gallon to $2.70 per proof gallon for the first 100,000 proof gallons produced at a distillery. As a craft distiller, we must pay $13.50 per proof gallon of the spirits we make. That is in addition to state excise taxes and any sales tax that consumers pay. By reducing the Federal Excise Tax to $2.70 per proof gallon, small distillers will be able to redirect monies that would have gone to the government to the purchasing of more equipment, upgrading facilities and employing more workers. The proposed reduction will be a major economic boost for this growing industry.
Why is a reduction in the Federal Excise Tax important to consumers? Well, of course all of the reasons set forth above will benefit local economies and help consumers indirectly. But there is also a direct impact on consumers. Much of what consumers pay for a bottle of spirits is comprised of federal and state tax. By reducing the Federal Excise Tax, consumers may see a reduction in price points for craft spirits!
Supporting proposed legislation to reduce the Federal Excise Tax for craft distillers will boost local economies, save consumer’s money and result in more spirits for us all to experience and enjoy. Please take a moment to reach out to your federal representatives and voice your support for this important tax reform.
You can contact your representatives through the links below.
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
The holiday movie season is here! This year brings us the next installment of the Star Wars legend, among other promising films.
Thinking of Star Wars often brings to mind the iconic Cantina scene. Just what were those aliens drinking? Bantha Blaster? Pink Nebula? Romulan Ale? Maybe, but that reminds me that there are many identifiable (and very real) adult beverages that have been featured in Hollywood films throughout the years.
Here is a list of blockbuster booze and legendary film cocktails that I put together:
Perhaps you can think of some others?
Co-founder of Murray's Fools Distilling Co. | Altona. NY