Distillery in operation on Rand Hill

DAN HEATH/P-R PHOTORandall and Sarah Beach stand near the stills at their business, Murray’s Fools Distilling Co., in the Town of Altona. The machines are named for the couple’s mothers, Lois Ann and Barbara Ann, as per distiller tradition to dub the machinery with feminine names. 

ALTONA — There are new stills on the hill.

Randall and Sarah Beach are the husband and wife team behind Murray’s Fools Distilling Co., located on Rand Hill Road in the Town of Altona.

They said it is the first legal distillery to operate in Clinton County since Prohibition.

In early May, they started the first batch, a grain-based vodka, the Snowshoe, that should be available to the public sometime in June.

“It’s really a trial run,” Randall said, with both stills expected to be running by the end of May.

STATE LICENSED

Murray’s Fools is a fully state-licensed “farm distillery.” That designation allows them to produce up to 75,000 gallons per year, Randall said, but most craft distillers are well under that.

It requires that at least 75 percent of their ingredients come from New York state, which, they said, fits in nicely with their own commitment to support of local businesses.

In addition to vodka, they plan to distill some gin, applejack and a few varieties of whiskey.

The farm distillery license means they can self-distribute their wares to restaurants and liquor stores and even offer tastings at events such as farmers markets.

The license also allows them to have a tasting room and serve cocktails at the distillery. They can offer other New York spirits, beers and wines and can sell their products at other venues with a similar license.

“It’s a great program,” Sarah said.

TASTING ROOM PLANNED

The Beaches plan to begin work on the tasting room once they have started to distribute and hope it will be open before the end of the summer.

It will feature a bar and a couple of areas for seating. Sarah said they have already obtained some rough-cut lumber for the bar.

“It will be beautiful when it’s sanded down,” she said.

North Country natives, the couple now live in Schenectady. They are self-confessed whiskey aficionados, to the extent that they started a whiskey tasting group about three years ago.

The idea of a distillery fit an urge to find something they could do together and that would serve as an outlet for their creative instincts.

LEARNING THE TRADE

As they explored opening a craft distillery, the Beaches took courses on the subject in Seattle. They were impressed by the varied backgrounds and origins of the others in the class, which showed them how the craft distilling movement is growing.

Once they decided to give it a go, the nearly vacant building next to Randall’s mother’s home provided a convenient location with extremely low overhead.

They have spent the past few months putting the system in place, including a network of fermentation and holding tanks, piping and stills.

NAME ORIGINS

One distillers tradition calls for stills to receive a feminine name, so the couple chose to name the stills Lois Ann for Randall’s mom and Barbara Ann for Sarah’s mom.

Photos on their website show each woman next to her namesake still. Randall said the name Murray’s Fools Distilling Co. comes from his great-great grandfather, W.H.H. Murray.

He was an advocate for the Adirondacks and outdoor life who wrote and published “Adventures in the Wilderness” in 1869. That led a rush to the Adirondacks, which overwhelmed the few accommodations and other resources available.

The visitors were dubbed “Murray’s Fools” in some media accounts, although many of them later returned and helped transform the Adirondacks with hotels, lodges and even the Great Camps that brought the Adirondacks to prominence as a place for urban society to escape the city life.

GROWING TREND

The Beaches said they are getting into distilling at just the right time, as momentum builds, like it did for the craft-brewing industry over the last 30 years or so.

Two other distilleries are already in operation in the tri-county region, both in Essex County: Lake Placid Spirits in Lake Placid and Gristmill Distillers in Keene.

The Beaches are pleased the state offers the farm distillers license program, which helps not only craft distilleries but also local farms. It is a proven model that has worked with the brewing industry, as well, Randall said, noting that has led to a resurgence of hop cultivation in the state.

“It’s a much less expensive entry into the market for the brewers, wineries and distillers.”

Email Dan Heath:

dheath@pressrepublican.com

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