The crops growing on 1,000-acre Myer Farm in upstate New York have been used in products ranging from animal feed to tofu. On a whim, fifth-generation farmers and brothers Joe and John Myer decided to try their hand at distilling their wheat, rye, corn and barley into spirits.
“Farming is in our blood,” Joe Myer says. “We put as much love and detail into distilling spirits as we do into growing crops.”
In 2012, Myer Farm Distillers released its first bottles of vodka, whiskey and gin handcrafted from grains grown on the farm. The entire process from growing the grains to milling, mashing, fermenting, distilling and bottling is done onsite.
The farm has devoted 100 acres to growing grains for its distillery and sells spirits from its tasting room and select retailers and restaurants in New York. Myer Farm Distillers also offers tastings and tours of the farm and distillery.
“You can look through the tasting room window and see where the grains are grown,” Myer says. “It opens up a conversation about food and farming, and deepens the connection to our products.”
The founders of the first certified organic vineyard in Colorado opened Peak Spirits Farm Distillery. (Photo: Peak Spirits Farm Distillery)
Grain-to-glass trend keeps growing
The U.S. has 570 craft distilleries — up from 68 in 2004 — and 12 percent are farm distilleries that grow their own fruits and grains or source them from local farms to produce artisanal spirits, according to the American Distilling Institute.
“It’s part of the renaissance of the local food movement,” institute President Bill Owens says.
Fans of the grain-to-glass movement believe that using local, seasonal ingredients has a positive effect on the taste of distilled spirits. Using crops grown onsite also allows distillers to create rum, gin, vodka and whiskey that reflect the unique flavors of the region.
Myer says he believes taking on dual roles as farmer and distiller has another advantage: complete creative control over the final product.
“We can grow whatever we need or want to experiment with,” he says.
Right now, Myer Farm is growing buckwheat in the hopes of using the flavorful grain in a new craft whiskey.
The spirit of experimentation led husband and wife Lance and Anna Hanson to use grapes from their vineyard to infuse handcrafted vodka, gin and brandy.
“We wanted to take the experience we gained operating a vineyard and winery and try out a different path,” explains Lance Hanson, co-founder of Peak Spirits Farm Distillery.
The couple, founders of Jack Rabbit Hill Winery, the first certified organic vineyard in Colorado, started producing spirits infused with their grapes in 2004.
“We wanted to make a distilled product that expressed the vibrant character of our fruit,” Hanson says.
Custom stills at Woody Creek Distillers in Colorado. (Photo: Woody Creek Distillers)
The quality connection
Peak Spirits Farm Distillery sells its products in eight states. Between May and September, their 18-acre vineyard and Colorado tasting room are open to the public for tours and tastings. This spring, the distillery will release a new product, a hard cider made from hops grown on their farm.
“Because we’re growing some of our own crops, we have an understanding and appreciation for the link between farming practices and product quality,” Hanson says. “If we were (producing spirits) any other way, we wouldn’t know the importance of that connection.”
For another Colorado enterprise, Woody Creek Distillers, growing potatoes for their signature vodkas is a point of pride.
“I want to control every part of my product, including farming,” founder Pat Scanlan says. “It’s expensive and risky and a lot of hard work, but it’s worth it to produce a quality product.”
The combination of volcanic soil and mountain spring water provide ideal potato-growing conditions on the farm. Woody Creek is one of just two distilleries in the U.S. making vodka from fresh potatoes.
A single bottle of vodka requires 14 pounds of potatoes. The distillery, which released its first bottles in 2011, grows 1.4 million pounds on 40 acres of farmland, harvesting them in September and October to distill 100,000 bottles of vodka annually. Its efforts are paying off.
Scanlan has increased distribution to eight states, including New York, Nevada, Georgia and Texas. The popularity of the potato vodka has Scanlan thinking about growing new crops like rye, wheat and barley and expanding production to include craft whiskey and gin.
“I knew that if we could grow potatoes on a large scale and distill them ourselves, it would allow us to create a superior product,” Scanlan says. “We put a lot of work into farming and making vodka with fresh potatoes, and you can taste the difference.”
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