Do I smell a skunk?

The fall weather is making me sound repetitive with my expressions of how each weekend surprises us by delivering yet another day with optimal riding weather, but here we were yet again staring at another day late in October with ideal riding conditions. Today we are off to Flemington, NJ to visit the Skunktown Distillery.

For us, it meant starting off with the most picturesque part of the trip by traveling through the Delaware Water Gap along route 611. It’s a beautiful area mentioned many times before in some of our other ride reports. We then crossed the Portland Bridge into NJ and traveled east on route 46 along the Delaware River.  This is the start of the highway which is known as its west end and it runs all the way east to the George Washington Bridge. In the area we’re in today, it is mostly serene, but if followed eastward enough, it’ll grow into quite a busy route.

Not far from the border of Pennsylvania, the highway takes you by the famous Hot Dog Johnny’s. A hot dog stand from the 1940’s that’ll show up on any discussion around the internet regarding nationally famous hot dog establishments. As always, the place was packed as they stood online for their freshly made birch beer, buttermilk, and of course their hot dogs.

Several miles further east we took route 31 south which we’d stay on all the way to the town of Flemington. Route 31, originally called route 30, was constructed from 1927 to 1935 and travels from White Township, NJ down to the capital of the state, Trenton, a total of 49 miles. It was changed from its original name of route 30 to avoid a conflict with another route 30 in southern NJ. This highway won’t win any scenic awards by motorcyclists, but this far north it’s nice enough to roll along through with many pretty areas to turn off to as can be seen with Googlemaps. Just when the highway widens and begins to get a bit busy, we’re ready to turn off and find our distillery off of Minneakoning Road. Unlike most of the distilleries we visited this season, this area is not surrounded by farms with streams and other gems of nature and there’s nothing historic about the buildings. But all that is made up for by the quality of the spirits we were about to encounter.

Owners Caine Fowler and Paul Hyatt, a former computer IT employee and a tile setter, respectively, decided to take on the challenge of creating great liquor from local chemical free ingredients and our impression is they couldn’t have been more successful. Skunktown was the original unofficial name of the home of these gentleman which became Sergeantsville, NJ. They loved the history of their town and decided to carry the Skunktown name forward as the name of their new establishment.

We were fortunate to walk in at a moment when others were just leaving and so the two of us were privileged to have Caine give us a tour of our own. His equipment appeared modest compared to some of the giant apparatuses we’ve seen in other distilleries but that just equates to smaller quantities and has nothing to do with the type of quality you can achieve. There was something about the way Caine spoke during the tour that made me feel that these spirits were going to be something special.

We sat down and ordered two flights which included a vodka, a spicy vodka, an oaked rum, a silver rum, a rye, and a peach moonshine. The craftsmanship of these spirits were among the best we’ve tasted. We can only think of two other places this season that could match this distillery. The most intriguing to us was the spiced vodka. A vodka infused with the Carolina Reaper, the world’s hottest confirmed pepper. Caine soaks the peppers in a jar of vodka and with only two shots worth added to five gallons, makes an incredibly spiced drink which we felt was perfect for the fall and winter season. A truly unique drink which may cause you to turn the heat down in the winter with enough sips.

Our trip back came with a diversion out to Hackettstown, NJ to see an old friend for the first time in at least 35 years. We learned during the trip he would be in that area, something that can only happen with today’s social media. We turned off of route 31 onto East Asbury Anderson Road which then intersected into route 57. The fall colors added their artistic touch as we passed by farms and the nearby Point Mountain Reservation.

The Fall air mixing with the roads of Warren County were a perfect match for a ride to a very fine distillery. Our stay in Hackettstown lead us to a ride in the dark to get home as our lights cut through the darkness of this moonless evening.

 

Got Milk?

This fall continued to deliver great riding weather as we made our way out to the Milk Street Distillery in Branchville, NJ. We began our trip through the picturesque Delaware Water Gap and exited off interstate 80 to route 94 north in Columbia, NJ.

Sussex county NJ remained timeless as always on this near cloudless day as we lazily rolled up 94 toward Blairstown. No matter how many decades have passed in my lifetime, this area never seems to change. A quick satellite view from Google maps will confirm as much with the only signs of development being mostly farmland interrupting the patches of trees. We made a left onto Stillwater Road or route 521 and with a couple of more turns and the passing of a couple of lakes, found ourselves entering historic Branchville.

Branchville is an independent municipality completely surrounded by Frankford Township. It was established by settlers from Connecticut in the 18th century and walking around this small borough gives one the feeling you may be on the old set of Mayberry, the fictitious town of the 1960’s TV show, the Andy Griffith Show. In the 2010 United States Census the population was 841, a decline of 4 people since 2000 which had already declined by 6 since the 1990 census. It’s certainly not a growing town, but its charm is not in short supply.

Brothers Mike and Gordon Geerhart operate their distillery in a 125 year old barn witch has been tastefully renovated. It is the first distillery in Sussex County since the Sussex County Distillery Co. burned down in 1948. As it is with new distilleries, Mike and Gordon have to wait before they can sell any aged spirit and so for now they offer clears, a vodka, a rye, and a rum. It’s the first time I’ve ever had an non-aged rye.

New Jersey is a little strict with their distilleries as they’re not allowed to sell any food. They also are compelled by the state to provide tours as there is to be an educational experience attached to the business. However, we did learn that Gov. Chris Christie singed a law reducing the $12,500 per year license to operate which was causing distilleries to disappear, to just $938 per year. Their tour package included tastes of their spirits and a shot glass souvenir all for $8. Mike saw my interest in his rye and was generous enough to go back to his aging barrels to pour off a little of his aging rye even though it’s not completely ready for distribution. All three spirts are done well and we grabbed a bottle of the rye to take home with us.

It’s a shame NJ distilleries can’t offer food but you are allowed to bring anything in with you that you’d like to eat and tables are available. They also have entertainment on weekends, you can learn more about the place at milkstreetdistillery.com, we highly recommend this place.

A sense of how short the days are becoming this time of year hovered over us as we made our way home but we left with plenty of daylight to burn. We passed over the Dingman’s Ferry bridge, the fourth of a series of bridges that took the place of a ferry that used to transport people across the Delaware River back in 1735. It’s probably one of the last bridges left where you’ll be greeted by a toll collector standing between the single lanes of traffic collecting the tolls by hand.

We headed south on route 209 to return home wondering how many more weekends like this we’ll have this late in the year.

 

 

You can “bank” on this distillery

We were tipped off by Elaine Pivinski, the owner of Franklin Hill Vineyards earlier this month to her son Adam’s relatively new distillery, the Social Still, in Bethlehem, PA. For us, the quickest route there made for the most mundane so we ventured slightly out of our way to travel along route 611 which runs all the way from Coolbaugh Twp. to Philadelphia.

Route 611 spans through five counties and includes views of the Delaware River and its canal, an abandoned railroad line, and historic towns such as the Delaware Water Gap. Space doesn’t permit mention of all that it provides, but it’s a well enjoyed trek by motorcyclists for some of its serene passages along its way.

We dropped off 611 in Easton and made our way to 412 in Bethlehem to catch a view of the Sands Casino and the Steel Stacks, now an art venue built among the now defunct site of the Bethlehem Steel Company. Concerts and festivals a plenty in the area and today was no exception which was to our advantage. Our destination did not have its normal crowd which allowed us some extra time with Adam during this visit.

Brimming with enthusiasm, owner Adam Flatt carefully tended to our questions as we sat at the bar in this historic building with a flight of vodka, gin, a rye, and a coffee infused bourbon. Standing firmly on 3rd street, the former Gosztonyi Savings and Trust building of the 1920’s, owned by the late Rozi Gosztonyi, is now the home of some of the best spirits we’ve tasted. This stately structure was meticulously renovated to strict codes in order for it to qualify on the National Register of Historic Places. Adam’s explanation of the effort that it took was enough to exhaust us just thinking about it. We ordered something light from a menu more thorough than we expected as we sipped and discussed distilling techniques with Adam.

When we were ready to go, Adam intercepted us on the way out and with little effort had us eagerly accepting his invitation to a private tour of the place. We ventured down into the old basement to see where the fermentation takes place. We saw how they labeled the bottles and came across a table of half empties where the staff would experiment with their ideas for future products. Adam explained the growing need for space for his aging whiskeys and he was utilizing every place he had. There was one room of barrels he keeps sealed off and when we walked inside we were nearly knocked off our feet by the fumes! It was a pleasant smell but of such strength it would affect your eyes as well. Probably the most fascinating room was the bank vault where he set up a table and chairs for visitors as you sat among aging whiskeys. The door to the vault was as sturdy looking as the rest of the building.

Adam said his vodka is distilled eight times and mixed with the good water from the Bethlehem water supply, it is one of the best vodkas we’ve ever tasted. His willingness to go the extra distance with his work also showed in his gin and the two whiskeys we tried as well as with the medals they’ve won. The most unique to us was the Barista Bourbon. A bourbon with Nicaraguan and Ethiopian coffee beans cold soaked before it is bottled. We brought a bottle of Barista and the Vodka home and plan on being back there soon.

We took a lazy ride back up north along 611 following the Delaware with a sense of satisfaction from this good trip.

 

Golden Era of the Delaware Water Gap, PA

The Poconos offer many choices for decent motorcycle rides and for many it all begins by passing through the Delaware Water Gap on interstate 80 to enter the state of PA. Where many still stop in the area to hike, swim, or explore, too many today use the route as a passageway to other areas of the Poconos glossing over a large part of the Pocono’s history in the process.

The Delaware Water Gap was formed during the Wisconsin glaciation period which began 85,000 years ago and concluded 11,000 years back. Its first inhabitants were the Paleo Indians who settled in the region 13,000 years ago. They migrated across the Bering Strait, the body of water that now separates Russia from Alaska at a time when the water was frozen due to glaciers dating back 45,000 years ago. That ice “bridge” was available to travel on up until 12,000 years ago when that area melted.

An old Indian trail in the gap ran up to Port Jervis, NY, reached on out to the Huydson river, and spanned all the way down to Philadelphia. It became known as Old Mine Road which became one of the first commercial highways in the US. Today, remnants of that road still exist with the area nearly hiding some of the evidence of the early Indian settlements with more obvious 17th century structures from the first European settlers still standing.

Old Mine Road could be a ride report all on its own with its sad Tocks Island Dam project that unnecessarily ordered people to leave their homes. The idea was to flood the Delaware river in that region to create a large recreation area. Budgetary reasons cancelled the project but it was too late for the people along the river who were already kicked out of their homes. Today, some of those homes still stand and you can visit the Millbrook Village, a recreated 17th century village with some original structures.

The late 19th century saw upper class Victorians coming to the gap area by train to escape the summer heat in New York City and surrounding areas. The very first Hotel/Resort in that area, The Kittatinny, was the place to be. Built in 1825, it sat 180 feet above the river giving guests a great view of the area. It was joined later by the Water Gap House hotel further up the mountain and the area saw many famous guests including president Teddy Roosevelt in 1910. By 1915 though, the Water Gap House had burned down and the same happened to the Kittatinny in 1931. With the advent of the automobile taking guests further into the state of PA, the golden age of the gap was over. Today you can stop at the Resort Overlook on rt. 611 just outside of the town of Delaware Water Gap to see where the Kittatinny once stood.

Heading into the town of Delaware Water Gap on rt. 611 will be a journey back in time with probably its most famous place being the Deerhead Inn. Once called the Central House in the 1840’s, it’s now the longest running jazz club in America that has seen many world renowned musicians over the years. Stop in for a drink or a meal while surrounded with history and the sounds of some of the best jazz musicians around. On your way out of town, stop in at the Village Farmer and Bakery on Broad Street for some of the best pies in the world!

There’s always good road to find for your bike in these parts and if you slow down a bit you’ll find yourself immersed in enough history to have you coming back again and again to absorb is all.

A view from The Kittatinny

Kittatinny Hotel

What’s brewing at the Upper Delaware Scenic Byway?

The year 1920 saw road construction along the New York side of the Delaware River to link the many settlements along the river. Today it’s known as Route 97 with its 71 miles spanned between Port Jervis and the village of Hancock.

The Hawk’s Nest, a winding route affording spectacular views of the river, is also the most photographed and favorite of motorcyclists. It rises hundreds of feet above the river making it a popular area for eagles and hawks to nest which gives great sightings of them hunting along the river. Trails, parks, preserves and other areas are all nearby as well as side trips to museums, breweries and distilleries.

The Shrewd Fox Brewery was on our list this day which only required 5 miles north up route 55 out of Barryville. This tiny brewery is owned and operated by a friendly retired couple who once made beer just as a hobby. Enjoy a brew at the bar or bring home a 32 ounce growler of one of the dozen beers and ciders they make. We brought home some of their Kozak Baltic/Ukrainian Porter which was enough to let us know they certainly know how to brew beer! Just about 12 more miles north brought us to our second visit to the Catskill Distilling Company in Bethel, NY. Bethel, the home of the 1969 Woodstock concert, is rich with Woodstock concert history without over doing the commercialism.

Monte Sachs attended veterinary school in Italy where he met an 80-year-old farmworker named Bernardini who taught him the art of distilling traditional grappa. With the passage of the 2008 New York State Farm Distillery bill, Monte decided to get into the business of distilling and we’re glad that he did. The store is outfitted with a gorgeous bar that comes from the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing and looks at home in the old styled shop with its shelves stocked with some of the best spirits you’ll find.

Hungry? Walk across the lot to the Dancing Cat Saloon which is housed in a renovated Victorian home with a wrap around deck. The quality of the food matches that of the excellent spirits and you may catch some live jazz as well. This distillery is one of our favorites not only because they distill so well, but the restaurant rounds out the whole experience without having to get in your car to go anywhere else. Once you’ve had your fill there, it’s about 60 seconds by car if you even want to bring it to visit the Woodstock concert site with its relatively new museum and the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts.

There’s enough at this location to fill the day all within walking distance and the roadways to and from the area are a delight to ride. The aforementioned scenic byway is a plus, but you’d be hard pressed to find a poor route in that area no matter what direction you come from.

Catskill Distillery

Distilling Among History

What can make visiting a distillery that does it right even better? How about rolling along route 208 up towards Gardiner, NY with a view of the Minnewaska State Park Preserve? Throw in the 1788 Grist Mill on the premises with the diverted river flow still running through the building and you have a combination of top of the line spirits with rich history.

One of the fist to distill in New York since the days of Prohibition, Ralph Erenzo and Brian Lee are the proud founders of Tuthilltown Spirits offering probably the best vodka we ever tasted along with a variety of other spirits including a gin and different types of whiskeys. They also carry a line of locally made wines and staff their store with highly knowledgeable clerks who will provide you with tiny samples at no charge or an array of full shots for about $10.

Ralph and Brian were instrumental in pushing along the Farm Distillery bill back in 2008 which made it easier for old farms to be revived into distilleries. The result is more employment, great spirits, and a variety of restaurants in the region making a trip out very worth your while.

The only regret we left with was that the restaurant was closed on the day we visited. We had to pass on sitting inside the revamped Grist Mill or relaxing in its back yard with a view of the flowing water which once turned the turbine that grinded the flour.

This was a trip filled with beauty from the surrounding area that offered a cozy charm that’s calling us back for a second visit. Our biker’s hat is off to Ralph and Brian for a job well done!

http://www.tuthilltown.com/

Grist Mill

The roaring 20’s

The dwindling days of summer conjured up the perfect riding weather so what looked to be a local ride turned into 80 miles north to the Prohibition Distillery in Roscoe, NY. Unlike previous distilleries that sit on their own farms, this one was nestled in an historic town within a 1929 firehouse complete with an outdoor bar and a 1920’s styled store inside. We were quickly greeted by two young gentlemen who knew enough about distilling to make one feel they were attending a chemistry class. We were fascinated by the complexities of the distilling process.

Samples of their spirits were free with only the suggestion of stuffing a jar with what amount so moved you to benefit our Navy Seals. The award winning Vodka was first with a stunning surprise in how clean it was along with such a gentle finish. Probably the most pleasant Vodka we had ever tasted. Next was their Gin which also carried the same properties as their Vodka that allowed the botanical flavors to really dominate. We finished with their impressive Bourbon, grabbed a bottle of Gin, and headed outside to the bike where we were approached by Rob, one of the owners of this great place.

Rob was knowledgeable, humble, and possessed a beard that makes my goatee look like stubble. He spent at least 20 minutes with us as we heard the story of how this place got started, learned a little more about distilling, and just how plain happy they all were to be doing the work they love. I wanted to just go sit in the shade and talk a lot more but it was time for Rob to get back to business and for us to be heading home.

One place of note on the way up and back was riding over Roebling’s Delaware Aqueduct which is now a single lane bridge that connects PA with NY. It began in 1847 as one of four suspension aqueducts and was designed by John A. Roebling who later became the engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge. Denise made a video of us crossing that you’ll find below.

Prohibition Distillery

Prohibition Distillery

 

Distilled Near By

Sometimes you have the weather on your side but not the time. We were fortunate though this weekend to find a local distillery to visit here in the Pocono Mountain region which proved to be well worth the while. The Mountain View Vineyard is split between two locations with its original location along Neola Road in Stroudsburg and its gorgeous new facility on Walters Road in the same town.

We ventured out on the 20 something minute ride to sample the distillery first which found us making a sudden right hand turn into a steep driveway up to what may be mistaken as a house if one isn’t paying attention. This is a quaint facility with its commodities neatly on display and a knowledgeable staff at your service. Their vodkas come in a variety of fruit flavors and the rest of the lineup offers a Corn Whiskey (unaged), an Apple Shine, and a Brandy. We learned about the available tours as I scanned my card for a bottle of brandy and left with the instructions that we must see the new facility on Walters Road on our way back. Given it was only 2 miles away, we heeded their advice and the place did not disappoint!

The roads in this area can sometimes seemingly lead to nowhere with perhaps an occasional house or defunct barn from years gone by so it was quite refreshing to come upon the rows of grapes and ultimately their new building sitting majestically up on the hill with its stone columns supporting its view rich deck. At only about six months old, the place still had a scent of new wood as you entered the large double doors. This is a place suitable for wedding receptions and the like with its size, views, and surrounding property, I thought as we entered. Later, I was to learn from their web site that such affairs do in fact take place here.

There are few times when you wish you weren’t on a motorcycle and this was one of them as the idea of sampling their wines on that gorgeous deck of theirs was off limits in our personal riding rule book of no alcohol on two wheels. Instead, I settled for asking for their driest red, which led to me carrying out a bottle of their “Passion”. At home, the brandy surprised me with its “whiskey-esque” flavor which was very welcomed over the more sugary brandies we’ve had in the past. Denise isn’t a whiskey drinker but agreed with its whiskey like demeanor and just loves it. So don’t let my description fool you. Their Passion wine is rich with an outstanding finish and I would imagine everything else on their list is of the same quality as these two samples we brought home.

There was plenty of daylight left as I stuffed the wine into the saddle bag and we took a more quiet and lengthy way home. I kept the speed down low so as to soak up as much of the remaining day we had with only the anticipation of getting home to try these spirits keeping us on course.

If you live in the area, there is no excuse for not visiting as it’s a real gem of a place. If you live elsewhere, put it on your list of places if you ever come through, you won’t be sorry.

Mountain View Vineyard

 

Rustic Distilling

This past Saturday propped up another gorgeous piece of weather to ride in and so Denise and I set out to another gem in the black soil of Orange County, New York. This was the region’s namesake, the Orange County Distillery, where founders John Glebocki and Bryan Ensall offer two locations to visit.

Our first stop was the actual distillery which overlooked the farmland that yields the ingredients for production. Despite its identifying sign out front, it’s the type of building that makes one double check your GPS upon pulling up to see if you actually found the place or perhaps had stumbled upon one of their storage sheds. It’s a tiny building and yet it’s the place where high quality spirits are born. It’s a reminder (barring the farmland) of how little space it takes to produce these spirits. As promised by their web site, we conversed with family while taste testing and I did see Bryan himself walk in and out, but he seemed far too harried at the moment to speak with.

Between their Whiskey, Gin, and Vodka there are twelve different products to choose from with us landing on a rye and a vodka. Their rye comes aged and unaged and I chose the aged which is a 100% rye whiskey. The vodka was unique to us as it is made with sugar beats. We chose that one over the one made with wheat.

After loading the bike with our bottled treasures, we went the two miles over to their other location at Brown Barn Farms. It’s a place that makes you feel like a square dance is about to break out as you pull up as it’s literally is an old renovated barn with a tasting and cocktail room inside with live music on most Friday and Saturday nights. A very cozy and inviting place, but being we were on the bike, had to pass on a seat at the bar and just look.

As with the other distilleries in this region, the spirits are of top quality. They were the most expensive thus far however. True to their web site, this is a small operation, but small is good when crafting spirits of this caliber.

Our return ride was serene thanks to the weather and mostly empty roadways to lead the way.

http://orangecountydistillery.com

 

 

By the time we got to Woodstock…

There are just those days when you wake up to weather that seems to have been custom made for motorcyclists. Combine this with our newly found knowledge of the 2008 New York State Farm Distillery bill and you have all the stars aligned for good roads, fine good, and top notch spirits. Our latest riding passion has us exploring New York state’s distilleries within day trip range and thanks to the aforementioned bill there are quite a few to choose from. There’s a good write up about this law here.

Route 402 north out of Monroe County, PA is always a favorable way to start off a trip and it only got better as we made our way into New York and onto 434. It then merges into 55 which ends at 17B. At this point you make a left and you’re within walking distance to the Catskill Distilling Company.

Monte Sachs is the owner and distiller who, while attending veterinary school in Italy, learned the art of distilling on the side. Today he operates a beautiful place complete with a store outfitted with a bar from the 1939 World’s Fair and the Dancing Cat Saloon with excellent food. After some taste tests and purchases, we walked over to the Saloon for lunch. This was a five star experience for us and if you’re into music nostalgia, there’s the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts at the Woodstock site 90 seconds away by car.

I was only nine years old when the 1969 Woodstock festival occurred, but I do remember all the noise in the news about it. Seeing the monument that was placed there in 1984 and walking the well manicured lawn were it took place wasn’t a magical experience, but it always feels somewhat special to be at the same place only separated by time. Within view from the field is the Museum at Bethel Woods. At fifteen dollars per head I think most will find that to be a little steep, but a couple sitting next to us at lunch gave up fifty percent off coupons which seemed to be a more appropriate price for the experience. For the young, maybe it’s a good experience to get a feel of a time they did not experience. For the rest of us that were around in those days, I think most will find the place so-so. It’s relatively new though and it appears they’re really trying to do well. Maybe some day down the road it’ll warrant the price.

I took a slightly different route on the return trip for about half way back as the music flowed through our headsets and the bike purred underneath us. For such a nice day the roads seemed so quiet which is a welcomed situation by both of us. It was enough for one day while at the same time wishing the day was longer and the ride would continue. But it was time to release the Catskill spirits out on the deck while we said good-bye to a type of day you wished was every day. Oh, and those spirits? You definitely want to go to the distillery!

Monument