Hudson American Whiskey range hits the UK

Last week BarLifeUK sat down with Hudson Whiskey to try the range and have a chat with one of the owners.

His name is Ralph Erenzo and up until a few years ago he was a professional rock climber, his business partner is Brian Lee, he was an Engineer. With no experience in the industry they built the first bourbon distillery in the state of New York for 80 years and now produce one of the hottest products in our industry.

Ralph is a true character, when he says he built the distillery he isn’t being metaphorical, with the help of Brian they built every part of the Hudson distillery by hand. Learning as they went using the internet they successfully built the whole thing from the ground up (with the exception of the well for the water and ‘that was only because they guy that owned the machine wouldn’t lend it to us’). Even more remarkably, when they first turned it on it didn’t blow up, well not entirely, all the steam pipes leaked and they had to redo the lot of them.

Hudson Baby Bourbon

That was back in 2003, in late 2005 they turned on the stills for the first time, produced their first whiskey in 2006 and launched into Europe in 2007. They now produce 5 varieties of American Whiskey, employ 25 people and two years ago signed a distribution agreement with William Grant & Sons.

When our friends from across the pond bang on about ‘The American Dream’ I generally feel a little nauseous but you can’t deny Hudson is a darn fine example of it.

The 5 varieties in question are a Baby Bourbon and Corn Whiskey (the same base product with the Bourbon simply an aged version of the Corn Whiskey), the Manhattan Rye, 4 Grain Bourbon and Single Malt. We were lucky enough to try them all however from the start of April it is the Baby Bourbon and Manhattan Rye that will be hitting the UK with the others coming over later in the year.

All of the products (with the exception of the Corn Whiskey which is a New Make i.e. unaged) are put into heavily charred new American oak barrels to age. One of two unique things about this is the size of the barrels they use, which are very small for this industry – generally 3, 5 or 8 gallons. The reason for this was born out of necessity, they needed to age the whiskey quickly so they could get it out there and get some money coming in!

The other unique point was born more out of laziness than necessity. As I mentioned they had no experience in distilling and learnt as they went along, one day Brian took Ralph into the ageing warehouse and explained that all of the barrels needed to be regularly agitated and this was done by turning them. Ralph politely explained there was no chance of that happening so the next day Brian turned up to work with two massive subwoofers. These were rigged up and some heavy bass R ‘n B was pumped through the room. These base notes agitated the whiskey perfectly and this technique is still used on every barrel (although Ralph has now moved out of the room he had next to the warehouse to get more regular sleep).

As you can see these guys do things differently, including the fact that (with the obvious exception of the Four Grain) all of their whiskey is made from 100% of one grain. Their bourbons are the only 100% corn bourbons on the market and it produces a unique and exceptional product. Making a 100% Rye was the hardest job they had and as a result is currently their favourite.

Barrel Ageing Cocktails

Hudson Manhattan Rye

Hudson were also early innovators in the Barrel Ageing Cocktail trend. Ralph’s son was the one who saw the opportunity to target the bar industry and quickly started giving their used barrels free of charge to New York’s top bars for use in their ageing experiments. The small size of the barrels and the speed in which they can get from distillery to bar made them very popular with the cities bartenders.

In fact Hudson embrace the cocktail scene with open arms, Ralph sees his products as ‘a jumping off point for bartenders as far as we are concerned’. When getting into a new bar Ralph will hand over his business card and tell the bartenders that if any customers have questions about the product to give them his card and tell them to call his mobile, anytime day or night. They also bring bar staff from New York to the distillery for a day to look around and, if they so desire, they can stay for a few days and work various jobs in the distillery to get a better understanding.

From certain people this could easily be viewed as a crass marketing ploy or even a way of getting free labour but not in the case of Hudson. In fact it is this very attitude, combined with the quality of the products that has given Hudson such a cult following in the New York bar industry.

Not ones to rest on their laurels, despite the fact they are struggling to keep up with demand at the moment, they are working on or already producing an Apple Brandy (the Hudson Valley is famous for its apples), a Cassis, a Gin with the base neutral spirit being corn and apple mixed and a range of bitters made by and dreamt up by the bottling line crew.

The amount of product coming into the UK is very limited so if you want to be one of the few venues to get your hands on the Baby Bourbon and Manhattan Rye when it’s released we suggest you start chatting up your First Drinks rep right away or calling them on 01256 748100 – oh and I’ll have a Manhattan Rye Manhattan please.