Sweet on Bitters
AT DUTCH'S SPIRIT in Pine Plains, co-founders Ariel Schlein and Alex Adams have unearthed an era when men wore spats and women concealed flasks in their garters. Named for iconic mobster and bootlegger Dutch Schultz, Dutch's Spirits is located at the historical site of Schultz's Prohibition-era, underground distilling operation.
Built hastily in the spring of 1932, Schultz's massive complex housed a network of tunnels, bunkers and false chimneys-designed to prevent detection by authorities-and produced thousands of gallons of moonshine until a raid by federal agents in October of the same year. Two workers were arrested, and authorities later returned to destroy the equipment, which included two 2,000-gallon stills, two high-pressure boilers, over 15,000 gallons of mash and 10,000 pounds of sugar.
Today, the land is known as the Harvest Homestead Farm and has been owned by the Adams family for several generations. Charles Adams (grandfather to Alex), who worked as a "potato harvester" on the farm during its time as a distillery, inherited the house and property with his wife in 1969.
For nearly 40 years, the family operated the farm and kept watch over its buried secret until the 2008 passing of the New York Farm Distillery Law. The law allowed farms to distill at a lower cost (provided they source at least half their raw materials from New York) and permitted qualified distillers to open tasting rooms and sell spirits directly from the distillery.
With a dormant moonshine kingdom beneath their feet, Alex Adams and his longtime college buddy, Schlein, decided to bring new life (and legitimacy) to Dutch Schultz's spirit.
In addition to moonshine and peach brandy, Dutch's Spirits produces a line of signature bitters with flavors steeped in history and reflective of the land where the company was conceived. "All of our products tell a story and draw from prominent flavors of a particular period of time," Schlein explains. Colonial Cocktail Bitters incorporate flavors introduced to early settlers by Native Americans (including American spicebush and Kinnikinnick, a Native American smoking product made from a mixture of various leaves and bark), while ProhiBitters include flavors inspired by bathtub gin (licorice, hibiscus, and ginger root). Boomtown Bitters-including hints of sarsaparilla, wintergreen, coconut and oak-evoke the flavors of the time and the whiskies of nineteenth-century mining boomtowns. "We didn't want to put out another singular flavor bitter. We wanted something more recipe-driven that also had a history," Schlein notes.
These bottled flavors of yesteryear can be found at a variety of specialty liquor stores and restaurants throughout the Hudson Valley. A "do it yourself" bitters-making kit, available at Williams-Sonoma, includes all the ingredients for amateur and professional mixologists to play apothecary at home.
The distillery, listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places, will re-open the doors of its hidden bunkers as a Prohibition museum later this spring.