Friday, 02 September 2016 15:01
Saratoga Springs Entrepreneur Opens Local Distillery
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A local entrepreneur has staked his claim on a new business in Saratoga Springs that less than a century ago would have been unthinkable, not to mention illegal. Given the city’s colorful past with notorious bootleggers and secretive Prohibition Era rum-running operations, the irony is not lost on Ryen Van Hall. “Now we’re doing it, legally, and in the same city,” said the 29-year-old native Saratogian, who recently began operations of his new business, Upstate Distilling Company, located at 41 Geyser Road. Hall paid $1.25 million for the 3-1/2 acre property which sits opposite the Cady Hill estate. A 12,000-square-foot factory features the warehouse that once served as the home of Serotta bicycles. The company includes minority partner Todd Gordon - who can often be seen offering market analysis and trading strategies on CNBC – and head distiller Glenna Joyce, a recent Skidmore College graduate. Van Hall opened for business with a soft launch during the first week of racing season by offering his Blinders brand vodka. It is currently sold in approximately 20 restaurants and bars in the greater Saratoga area, Glens Falls and Troy. The grain-to-spirit distillery process begins in a mash tun, where grain and water are cooked, then is continued in a pair of 2,000-litre fermentation tanks, where it spends three or four days. The seven-foot tall tanks are named after Academy Award-winning actresses Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren. In keeping with the theme, a nearby blending tank is called “Oscar,” because of its resemblance to Oscar the Grouch. Then it’s on to the pot still for stripping and spirit distillation runs. In addition to the vodka, several types of whiskies are currently maturing in five-gallon barrels, which, come fall, will result in rye whisky – to be called Ryen’s Rye - and a yet-to-be-named bourbon. “Whisky is nice, because there’s a creative aspect, but it’s also very much a production. I like that balance, using both sides of the brain,” Van Hall said. He has been genetically granted the tools necessary for the undertaking. “I got my artistic side from my mother, an art major at Skidmore, and my grandmother, who was a professor at Cooper Union.” From his father he learned how to run his own business, by working in his dad’s scrap metal yard. Van Hall said the easing of previously stringent State Liquor Authority laws and regulations have helped to revive New York’s distilling industry for entrepreneurs. The passage of the 2007 Farm Distillery Act, which allowed farms to become distilleries and host tasting rooms, also provides a boost for tourism. Tuthilltown Spirits, located in the Hudson Valley, was the first in New York. Today there are more than 70 distilleries across the state. An on-site tasting room is open noon to 5 p.m. Fridays through Sundays. A formal grand opening, in conjunction with the release of the whisky products, will take place in late October.