The biggest little distiller on the East Coast

| 02 May 2014 | 01:19

I dip a finger into the clear liquid that has just spouted out of the shiny new still and into a holding tank, taste it, and yelp.

Jason Grizzanti and Jeremy Kidde chuckle. They are co-owners of Black Dirt Distillery, a sister company of Warwick Valley Winery.

This stuff is 153 proof. It will be cut with water to reach 125 proof before it’s poured into charred barrels to age. By law, it can’t be barreled when it’s this potent. After three years in barrels, it will come out mellower and browner, and it will be called Black Dirt Whiskey.

Black Dirt Whiskey is already being made a couple miles away at the Warwick Valley Winery on a small scale and released in batches, but this new six-story-tall, $500,000 still is in another league altogether. It reminds Grizzanti, 36, of a submarine. To finance the upgrade, Grizzanti and Kidde partnered with the venture capital firm Hudson River Ventures (see page 22). It may make Black Dirt Distillery the biggest micro-distiller on the East Coast.

Grizzanti and Kidde stand together, on a platform in front of the gurgling still, alongside Allan Van Strander, the contractor who installed this copper and brass affair. The only other still installing experience Van Strander had before this was putting in the one at the winery, which is a fraction the size. Before he started, the three men traveled to Wyoming together, to see a similar set-up.

We climb down from the platform and walk outside to see the massive hoppers where the corn, barley and rye are stored. The corn is black dirt-grown and the rye comes from upstate. The spent grain is being piped into a truck, which will go to a farm in Westtown to feed cows.

“Go ahead, you can climb up,” said Grizzanti, nodding upwards at the ladders attached to the three identical hoppers, which are a few stories high. “It’s fun.”

Becca Tucker