The Northeastern region of America, which spans from Virginia to Maine, is marked by warm, humid summers, frigid, snow-filled winters, and rocky, shallow soil. Dead center in this span of states lies the Hudson Valley, home to a diverse set of crops from root vegetables like carrots and beets to summer nightshades like tomatoes and eggplant. The valley’s rolling hills are also perfect for heirloom crops of grains like rye and barley, as well as a wide range of apples, which makes the area ideal for making spirits with a truly unique sense of place.
Take, for instance, the hard cider brewed at Aaron Burr Cidery, based out of Wurstboro, New York. Founders Andy Crown Brennan and Polly Giragosian discovered that, unbeknownst to most modern Americans, apple cider was the beer of America before Prohibition, with a range of characteristics, a drinking culture, and entire communities built around it — and that the Hudson Valley had the perfect climate and soil conditions for growing cider apples.
“Cider is the poster child of the local food movement in the Northeast. Other regions grow wine grapes or beer grains well. The Northeast is one of the world’s best apple regions, and anyone from DC to Boston should look to cider as the nightly table wine,” says Brennan, adding, “It’s safe to say that there is no place on earth better for apples.”
For Aaron Burr’s Homestead cider label, the couple blends apples purchased from orchards like Fishkill Farms with cider apples from their home orchard, as well as another unique ingredient: apples harvested from the town’s wild and abandoned apple trees. “It isn’t so much nature (variety) as it is nurture (how they’re grown),” he adds. “I don’t want to blend mountain top apples with hillside apples, or north slope apples with south slope apples. I want to discover what those differences mean to cider.”
Another local spirits artisan, Hillrock Estate Distillery, is hoping to bring the same sense of terroir to its whiskey. When owner Jeffrey Baker discovered his house was on land that was a grain farm in the 1800s, he decided to try his hand at making a whiskey unique to the region. “As it turns out, in the early 1800s, two-thirds of the barley and one-half of the rye for the entire country was grown in new York, and over 1,000 farms made whiskey from their excess grain,” he says. “I was amazed that none of the existing distilleries were truly growing their own grain and crafting whiskey on-site like fine estate wines.”
He still remembers tasting Hillrock’s first batch of single malt whiskey. “It was stamped with rich notes of clove and cinnamon,” he recalls. “Our unique terroir was clearly present.”
Combining apple puree with warming spices, this cocktail is a fall favorite of Chef Serge Madikians. At his restaurant, Serevan, he uses Pink Pearl apples harvested from a nearby orchard in New York’s Hudson Valley. This unique pink-fleshed apple lends a rosy hue to the drink.
For the apple puree:
3 Pink Pearl apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
1 strip lemon zest
2 cardamom pods
1/2 cinnamon stick
3/4 cup (6 fl. oz./180 ml) water
For the spiced simple syrup:
1 cup (8 oz./250 g) sugar
1 cup (8 fl. oz./250 ml) water
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 whole allspice
1 star anise
2 strips lemon zest
2 fl. oz. (60 ml) vodka
1/2 fl. oz. (15 ml) fresh lemon juice
To make the apple puree, in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the apples, lemon zest, cardamom, cinnamon stick, clove and water. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently until the apples are tender, about 15 minutes. Remove and discard the cardamom, cinnamon stick and clove. Transfer the apple mixture to a blender and puree until smooth. Refrigerate until chilled before using. You will need 2 fl. oz. (60 ml) puree for the cocktail.
To make the simple syrup, in a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, water, cinnamon stick, allspice, star anise and lemon zest. Heat gently, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and let steep for about 1 hour, then strain. Refrigerate until chilled before using. The syrup will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. You will need 1 fl. oz. (30 ml) syrup for the cocktail.
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine 2 fl. oz. (60 ml) apple puree, 1 fl. oz. (30 ml) simple syrup, the vodka and lemon juice. Shake well and strain into an old-fashioned glass filled with ice. Serves 1.
6 Autumn Lane
Named for the address where Chef Serge Madikians’ restaurant, Serevan, is located, this house cocktail captures the essence of autumn.
2 fl. oz. (60 ml) bourbon
1 fl. oz. (30 ml) Calvados
1/2 fl. oz. (15 ml) St-Germain elderflower liqueur
1/2 fl. oz. fresh lemon juice
2 fl. oz. (60 ml) apple cider
Apple slices for garnish
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine the bourbon, Calvados, elderflower liqueur, lemon juice and apple cider. Shake well and pour into two chilled martini glasses. Garnish each with an apple slice and serve immediately. Serves 2.
Learn more about growing and harvesting food and drink in the Hudson Valley in our video below.