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Monday, September 7, 2020

Booze review: Queen City's Hudson Valley Sunshine

Hudson Valley Sunshine, on the rock.

Coming to live in Milton six and a half years ago has had a lot of effects on me, one of them being that I became after just one autumn a complete and total apple snob. Dwelling among copious fecund orchards and getting to taste the incomparable crisply intense flavor of the local fruits right after they've come off the trees, sometimes even instantly after ... well, that engenders a contempt for apples from Washington or China. (I mean, if you're going to eat an apple from China, you might as well just pour yourself a shot of Roundup, pound that and be done with it.) Albany-area apples I still think are OK, but any further out than that? My nose reflexively turns upward.

So, I was intrigued upon learning of Queen City Farm Distillery's new products, Apple Sunshine and Hudson Valley Sunshine. They're both applejack - the native booze of yore in these parts - distilled with honey, the difference being the Hudson Valley Sunshine is aged in virgin oak for a year before bottling. Intrigue turned to excitement upon finding out that the apples from which both are made are grown by the Clarke family, who's been farming around here for, oh, about 200 years or so. (The main Clarke lands are in Milton, but these organic apples are grown on another piece they farm out in Gardiner.)

A photo of the booze being reviewed from the company's website. Gold star to the photographer for adherence to the "rule of thirds."

So, at the Heart of the Hudson Valley Farm Market a few weeks ago, I sampled both and went home with a bottle of the aged-in-oak kind. My first session was it on the rocks, or more precisely on the rock - I am a true believer in the "giant ice cube" theory of cocktails. (This is a subject for another blog post under the category of The Folly of Dan, but suffice to say that when you buy the giant ice cube mold, you should be sure that said giant ice cube will actually fit into your glassware.)

HV Sunshine's aroma is pleasantly authentically apples-and-honey, making it the perfect drink for Rosh Hashanah. (That's Sept. 18 this year, so there's still time to find the shofar and get it cleaned up for the annual toot.) Taste-wise, it's very well-balanced between a sweet smoothness and a boozy bite, which comes from the fact that it's 100 proof. That's a little more alcohol than your standard Jim Beam (80 proof) but consistent with higher-end sipping whiskeys like Knob Creek. Its makers bill HV Sunshine as "the gluten-free alternative to rye and bourbon." I would agree with that. If you've had to swear off whiskey due to gluten issues, this comes pretty close to bourbon, reminding me of Wild Turkey American Honey liqueur but with more oomph and more buzz. The next sesh, I drank the HV Sunshine neat, in a snifter. Still good, but like that velociraptor in that old meme, it was a lot more bitey, getting in the outskirts of the neighborhood of being too much. 

Remember this guy? I wonder if he ever made it home ...

So that covers what it is; let us now turn to what it is not, and that is cheap. At $50 for a 375 ml bottle, HV Sunshine is probably not going to be a regular tipple for most of us. (The price tag didn't stop me from buying a second bottle, though, as it's a limited edition - small-batch is the term - and I wanted to have a sufficient supply.) That's not wildly out of line with other local boozes - I paid about that much for a like-sized bottle of Tuthilltown's mighty fine Four Grain Bourbon a while back. But at that price, I was thinking I'd reserve it solely as a sipper and not use it in cocktails. (Their website has some mixological suggestions - they propose swapping out tequila or white rum for the clear Apple Sunshine, an idea with potential.)

But then I remembered that I had recently ran out of cognac, so I thought I could replace the Courvoisier with the HV Sunshine in one of my favorite drinks, the classic New Orleans-born Vieux CarrĂ©. Thus was created the Vieux Verger (Old Orchard):

1 shot Hudson Valley Sunshine

1 shot Bulleit Rye 95

1 shot sweet vermouth - I use Dolin Rouge, which is not as sweet as Martini & Rossi

1 bar spoon Benedictine

Coupla dashes Peychaud's bitters

Coupla dashes Angostura bitters

Combine in a mixing vessel with ice, stir, strain into glass with giant ice cube or regular ice cubes if you must, garnish with either a lemon peel or a cocktail cherry. (The original Vieux Carré calls for the lemon peel but I like the cherry better.)

It turned out very well - I suspect if I had used the Martini & Rossi, it would have been too sweet, but with the Dolin it was pleasingly rich, and packed a wallop with both the 100 proof HV Sunshine and the 95 proof rye, plus the little bit of alcohol in the vermouth and Benedictine.

So, if you're into strong liquor, local apples and supporting hometown distillers, you could do far worse than to drop a Grant on a bottle. Check them out on the 'Gram (a.k.a. the Insta) at @queencityfarmdistillery