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As Catskill Distillery gets ready to turn the calendar on its fourth year in business, their story of hard work, risk and reward is certainly one worth telling.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Stacy Cohen, who founded the Route 17B business along with her husband, Monte Sachs. “It was a huge amount of work and planning but we did it right… it’s all about a great product.”
And with master distiller Monte Sachs, DVM, at the controls, Catskill Distillery has gone far beyond the early days of Peace Vodka and the “white spirits.”
Today Catskill Distillery is making a full line of whiskey and bourbon, earning acclaim from New York City newspapers along the way.
Recently, the Village Voice named the distillery the “Best Local Distillery in New York City.”
“That’s a big deal,” Cohen said. “It shows our relationship building between New York City and the Catskills.”
Another feather in their cap came when their new bourbon made the New York Times’ Top 10 List, being judged against bourbons from across the country.
That acclaim has led to greater visibility. And with greater visibility comes the challenge of greater demand and how to satisfy that need.
“We have been able to distribute our products to some very well-known places,” Sachs said. “Such as the Mohonk Mountain House in Ulster County, Settler’s Inn in Hawley, Pa. and FlatIron Room and Whiskey Park in Manhattan.
“We recently signed up with the leading distributor in the country,” Cohen said. “In the beginning we could self distribute…”
But with the demands of running the multi-dimensional Distillery, marketing took a back seat to product quality.
Sachs and Cohen are confident that with exceptional products on the shelves, the new distributor will open markets never before dreamed of.
Sachs added, “It takes time to be recognized. Big distributors look for a full line of products and dependability of supply.
“This organized network of distribution will help us in our development and our line growth,” he said. “It will take us to new markets.”
To meet that demand the Distillery recently built a barrel house, where their whiskeys are aged for two years.
With an enormous outlay of money to buy new barrels and the necessary ingredients to make their whiskey, Cohen said cash flow is one of the company’s biggest challenges as they wait for their spirits to age.
And to distinguish itself further from the countless distilleries now popping up across the country, Sachs recently used buckwheat – a member of the rhubarb family – to make his whiskey.
“Buckwheat [spirits] cannot legally be called whiskey because whiskey must be made from grain,” Cohen said. “It’s a whiskey which is not a whiskey – but it’s very good.”
The distillery has also partnered with Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown to use their Hennepin Beer mash to put through their stills.
“We will distill a single malt, limited edition whiskey with their mash,” Cohen said. “This is soon to be a partner project.”
A licensed New York State Farm Distillery, Catskill prides itself in using mostly NYS products and with their license they can also sell products to the public.
In fact, Catskill has even become a learning ground for future distilleries, hosting two Cornell University seminars each year on the technical properties of distilling, taught by Sachs.
“You need a passion to do what we do,” Cohen said. “And we did it right.”
Originally published in Sullivan County Business Edge: Winter 2014.