William Grant brings New York's Hudson whiskey to the UK

01 October, 2014

Erenzo: making it up as he goes along

William Grant has launched the first whiskey produced in New York state in 80 years into the UK market.

Hudson whiskey is the creation of New York stuntman Ralph Erenzo, who decided to swap his high-octane job for distilling after realising the potential for producing bourbon and rye in the Empire State.

He founded the distillery on his farmland in upstate New York in 2004 with business partner Brian Lee and it has gone from strength to strength, collecting various awards and taking the US by storm.

The small-batch whiskey will be available to selected retailers, with an rrp of £37. The range in the UK includes Baby bourbon, Manhattan rye and Four Grain bourbon.

Erenzo was in Shoreditch, London, last night to announce the move to the UK, and he told guests he was looking forward to spreading the word about Hudson – named after the river that runs through New York – throughout London and beyond.

When Erenzo bought Tuthilltown Gristmill and the surrounding 14ha in 2004, distilling was never even considered.

He was a professional climber and yearned to create a ranch that would act as a base camp for people that wanted to scale the cliffs at nearby Shawangunk Ridge.

“But the neighbours didn’t want all these pillaging climbers on the land, so they objected to the plans,” he said. “After three years of abuse the dream was dead and everything I had was ripped up.

“I spoke to a lawyer and discovered that nobody could stop me making a living on the property. I am on a farming district and I have a constitutional right to farm.

“A winery is a farm, and I’ve always liked wine, although I prefer a Guinness. It sounded good and it meant I could have visitors on the property.

“I eventually passed on the winery as I wasn’t that enthused about it, but I learned there hadn’t been a distillery in New York for 80 years since the Prohibition.

“New York City is just 80 miles away and gets millions of tourists a year, so I thought: ‘this is interesting’.

“First I made a cider and I realised: this isn’t rocket science, I can do this.

“Then Brian Lee showed up. He was an electrical engineer in charge of fitting out the ESPN studio in Connecticut but he hated it and wanted to do something himself.

“There is a 225-year-old flourmill on my property and he wanted to buy it to make flour and cornmeal.

“I told him to work with the mill crew for a while and he did and he said ‘it isn’t a career change, it’s a death sentence’. I had to agree with him.

“I told him my idea for a distillery and he told me it was crazy, but three days later I got an email from him saying let’s build it.

“We knew nothing about it – we were the mail order brides of the industry we were going into. I raised money, he mortgaged his house and we went for it. We converted three barns and did all the electrical wiring.

“After three years we made our first product – a vodka. Then we made a corn whisky.

“Then I spent a year or two going up and down the Hudson valley telling people I had the first New York whiskey made in 80 years. It always got a sale. Within two years we were in 128 locations, and then we got a distributor in other states.

“Then we got a call from William Grant and they said ‘you keep cropping up on our radar’. They arrived in a large shiny car with shiny suits and walked across our farm, which was a big mess.

“They invited us to New York City and then told us they wanted to buy the whole thing. We said no chance – we couldn’t walk away from what we had done for six years. In the end we sold them the Hudson brand, but we still own and operate the distillery. It was great to be picked up by a serious, well-renowned whisky house, with a worldwide network and distribution. It encouraged us to keep going.

“We started with five employees – me, my son, my partner and two other guys. Now we have 55 employees. Three years ago we made 10,000 gallons of whiskey. Now we’re at 60,000 gallons.

“For four years we were the only distillery in New York, but since 2008, 60 have opened. It’s created a whole new industry in the state.”

From its humble beginnings, Hudson is becoming increasingly well-respected and accolades include gold at the IWSC. Ironically though, Erenzo is unable to taste the fruits of his labour as a car accident ruined his kidneys.

But he is proud of his work and the impact it has had on the New York area – grains are sourced from within 35 miles of the distillery and staff numbers continue to swell – and he said he is delighted that it has arrived in the UK. 

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