Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey arrived on the scene just three short years ago by rebelling against conventional rules and getting up-close-and-personal through guerilla marketing. Not a small feat in the very old and established spirits industry!
I first heard about Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey from a bartender at Babbo, über-celebrity chef Mario Batali’s restaurant in NYC. The bartender told me about this refreshing newcomer in the spirits market and as I was drinking my delicious “Manhattan” (made with Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey), I knew I had to dig up the story on this “micro-distillery” that uses only organic product and is served in some of NYC’s top restaurants like Gotham Bar & Grill and Blue Hill (where the Obamas recently had their date night).
Soon after Babbo, I called up Ralph Erenzo, one of the founding partners of Tuthilltown Spirits, where Hudson Whiskey is produced, to see if I could take a tour of his distillery in Gardiner, NY.
The Business Model: All Natural and No Waste
When I arrived, Ralph and his son Gable gave me a comprehensive tour. When the three of us sat down to talk, Ralph explained that the Tuthilltown model “is built on using everything we have to refuel our process”. Even more special than its accolades in both the culinary and spirits industry is that Tuthilltown Spirits’ philosophy is deeply rooted in using locally produced ingredients such as New York grown corn and apples in their eco-friendly distillation process.
Gable, who recently joined Tuthilltown as a partner, told me that all of the ingredients for their whiskey come from within a nine-mile radius. For instance, they use fresh cider and apples from nearby orchards. These local ingredients can produce a variety of spirits including vodkas, whiskeys, rum, eau de vie, brandy, and infusions. And they even have a local solution for their waste. The solids (apples, corn etc.) and liquids get separated after the distillation process. The solids go to a local pig farm as feed while the liquids go to reed beds nearby, which are used as a method of removing pollutants from grey water.
Next month, Tuthilltown will also be acquiring a Micro-Fueler, a home ethanol distillation system that will maximize elimination of dependence on fossil fuels. The Micro Fueler, already in use in states such as California, will act like a gas pump, except that it will be using ethanol to run their facility. They certainly are making efforts to become self-contained!
An Organic Growth Process: Worth A Million In Sales
The partners, Ralph and Brian Lee, neither who have any experience in spirits, decided to throw out the book except for the federal regulations book. They worked relentlessly to teach themselves the craft of small-batch distillation. The partnership, according to Ralph’s humorous tongue-in-cheek description, “was like a Catholic marriage. No giving up.”
Success has been as organic as their distilling process. Back in 2006, their first year selling, Tuthilltown’s revenues were around $65K with the partners selling the whiskey literally out of the back of a car along the Hudson. But very quickly, word spread. Each subsequent year, they have more than doubled their sales. In 2009, Tuthilltown is projecting $1 million in revenues and turning profits. They did this with almost no debt. All of their growth has been “organic” (pardon the pun). Not too shabby for a business that is under five years old!
Tuthilltown spends almost no money advertising. Ralph said, “Our success has been through word-of-mouth and guerilla marketing. There is no way we could compete with the big guys in advertising”. It seems to be working since some of the biggest players in the restaurant world such as Blue Hill, the Culinary Institute of America and chef Danny Meyers have all come up to Tuthilltown to learn about their distillation process.
Hudson Manhattan Whiskey (about $45 per bottle) has not only expanded across the country, but they also have their eyes set on expanding internationally. In 2007, Hudson sent their first international shipment to Paris.
So, when you find yourself out on the town for cocktails, think locally and make it a Hudson Manhattan Rye Whiskey. Cheers!
For more information, check out www.tuthilltown.com. If you are in the NYC area, Tuthilltown will be at the Classic & Vintage Artisanal Spirits NYC Launch Party in Tribeca. For information, please visit www.domainselect.com.