Today’s Alchemist Cabinet is a guest post by Distiller Stephen Osborn of Stoutridge Distillery in New York.
I’ve been making wine all my life. But only grape wine. And not for lack of curiosity but because I really don’t like to use sulfites and added sugars as I find they dilute flavor. Where I am in the Hudson Valley there is a lot of fruit variety within a mile of the winery, but unfortunately, for winemaking fruits other than grapes always need added sugars and then added sulfites for stability.
When I started distilling a couple years ago I decided to try make some cherry wine for immediate distillation into brandy. I couldn’t avoid adding sugars to get acceptable alcohols, but I wouldn’t need the sulfites as distillation would be immediately after fermentation. The equipment I have for grape wine crushing, fermentation and pressing works with cherries, so everything was in place. I just had to got over myself and buy a bag of cane sugar!
Two tons of cherries later I was very happy with how the fermentations were going. The grower asked if I might want to try his plums as well. I was concerned the plums would be too large for the grape crusher but he brought a test bushel and they went through fine. I was also concerned about the flavor concentration post sugar addition but the price was right to give it a try and the cherries were going great guns.
Nothing could have prepared me for the aromas coming from these plum fermentations. It was really amazing. Complex, vivid, mouth watering! We used 5 varieties of plums picked at three different ripenesses to try to make as complex a spirit as possible. I used all my winemaking know-how to aim at freshness and complexity. The less ripe plums contributed just as important a component to the finally brandy blend as the just overripe ones. We left the pits in through the entire process including in the still. I think thats a very important aspect as well.
I could not be happier with the result and it sells as “Slivovitz 100 proof” in the tasting room without issue. I chose this name because I don’t add sugar or any coloring to the brandy, just as you would find in central Europe. When you get the flavors right, sugar is a crutch and not as fine as the intact limb. There are a lot of people in the Hudson Valley that know about Slivovitz or Slivovice, so that is a blessing and makes for interesting conversations about the homeland. Perhaps the best reason to make the stuff!
I make a lot of different spirits from in house malted single malt whiskey to rye to vodka and a variety of both dry and Genever style gins. I make several grape eau de vie and aged brandies. I make wine vatted whiskey and whiskey brandy blends. I make over 30 kinds of wine. But if I had to choose but one thing to make. If I had to make this onerous choice, it would be Slivovice. I am completely taken by it’s nature and the people it has brought to my distillery for a taste. As they say in Albania, Zuar! Cheers!