Global Journeys with Jill Dutton

From Bees to Spirits: Unveiling the Magic of Distillation with Claire Marin in New York's Sullivan Catskills

September 19, 2023 Jill Dutton Season 1 Episode 12
Global Journeys with Jill Dutton
From Bees to Spirits: Unveiling the Magic of Distillation with Claire Marin in New York's Sullivan Catskills
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Join us as we embark on a captivating journey into the world of distillation with Claire Marin, owner and head distiller of Pollinator Spirits. We will uncover the magic behind the transformation of honey into award-winning spirits while unearthing the profound dedication and passion that drives Claire’s craft. As we navigate the heart of New York State's Sullivan Catskills, the importance of sustainability, water conservation, and the use of local ingredients in distillation becomes strikingly evident. Claire’s intoxicating journey from a beekeeper turned distiller is a story that is as sweet as her honey.

Venture with us into the second half of the conversation where Claire unravels the unique history of the distillery's location, once a machine shop and firehouse. She further elaborates on the extraordinary experiences they offer for travelers visiting the region. Get a taste of how Claire and Pollinator Spirits have managed to bag multiple Double Gold awards at prestigious competitions while using water conservation techniques and locally sourced ingredients. Claire’s dedication to creating a distinguished brand, upholding environmental responsibility, and providing high-quality spirits, highlights the hidden gems of the Catskills region.

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Speaker 1:

Welcome to Global Journeys with Jill Dutton, the captivating travel podcast that takes you on an extraordinary adventure around the world. I'm your host, jill Dutton, and I am thrilled to be your guide through the mesmerizing tapestry of cultures, landscapes and experiences that await us. Global Journeys with Jill Dutton is more than just a travel podcast. It's an exploration of humanity itself. Through the power of storytelling, we illuminate the lives of the remarkable individuals we encounter along the way, whether it's through the eyes of a fishing guide, a distillery owner, a mixologist, a historian, chef, or even a farmer. Each person we meet adds a rich layer to the narrative of culture and place. In this podcast, we embark on a transformative journey where the focus goes beyond the typical tourist attractions. Instead, we dive deep into the hearts and souls of the places we visit, uncovering the hidden gems and untold stories that make each destination truly unique. Join me as we venture off the beaten path, seeking authenticity, connection and a deeper understanding of the world we inhabit. Together, we'll unravel the tapestry of cultures, one story at a time. Although my writing career began in the late 90s, when I created and launched a wellness publication called Evolving Magazine, since 2015 I've worked as a travel writer on a mission to seek out the locally celebrated foods, liquor trends, outdoor activities and stories of those I meet along the way. My work has been published in Wine Enthusiast, a far woman's world, first for women, insider road trippers, modern farmer chilled magazine and many more digital and print publications. I'm also the creator of Global Plates the people we meet, the food they eat a syndicated column. Creating this podcast is the next step in my journey of sharing the stories of the people I've met along the way. So pack your curiosity, leave your preconceived notions behind and let's embark on Global Journeys with Jill Dutton, where each episode promises to inspire, educate and awaken the wanderlust within us all. Welcome, fellow travelers, to another exciting episode of Global Journeys with Jill Dutton. I'm your host, jill Dutton, and today we are embarking on a delightful journey into the heart of New York State and the Sullivan Cat skills, where we'll uncover the artistry and passion behind crafting unique spirits. Joining us today is a true trailblazer in the world of distilling, a visionary who has not only mastered the art of creating exceptional spirits, but has also made it her mission to support and protect the environment in the process. It is my absolute pleasure to introduce Claire Marin, the owner and head distiller at Pollinator Spirits, a distillery that's not only crafting exquisite libations but is deeply committed to the sustainability of our planet. Claire's journey into the world of spirits is a fascinating one. In 2003, she began as a beekeeper, tending to hives and producing the finest wildflower honey. Her honey quickly became a sought after delight in New York State restaurants. But Claire's journey didn't stop there. In 2010, she ventured into the world of distillation with her wildflower honey as a key ingredient. So, whether you're a season traveler or an armchair explorer, grab your favorite cocktail, get back and get ready to be inspired as we embark on this intoxicating adventure through the world of distillation and sustainability with Claire Marin, a beekeeper turned distiller, with the heart of sweetess her honey. Claire, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us and give us a chance to learn more about Catskills Provision's distillery, as well as your pollinator spirits.

Speaker 2:

Thank you so much, jill. It's a pleasure to speak with you Again. We have been at this for quite a while, so it's really nice to continue to get attention from people Right.

Speaker 1:

Yes, and winning awards. I was there in the spring for the food festival, and I really enjoyed getting to see your distillery as well as sample some of these wonderful flavors. I brought home with me your Negroni and some of the vodka, and it was so delightful, though, to come back to Kansas City and be able to savor and taste some of your spirits. So thank you Excellent. Can you tell us about the history and inspiration behind Catskills provisions to stillery and what motivated you to start this craft spirits company in the soul of Catskills?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so I started the company in 2010. I had been in publishing for 15 years prior to that and I visited the Catskills for the very first time in 2003 and really fell in love with it. There's a lot of space there. It's the one thing that always resonated with me. I feel very my creative juices really come to life up there, and so if you are entrepreneurial, creative, it really, I feel is an area that inspires people, and so I visited in 2003,. Kept being in my publishing career and I ran sales teams for magazines and media companies, so I had worked for companies like Hearst and Meredith Hachette, philippaqui, and on the weekends I would go up there and I would be keep. I started beekeeping right in 2004. It was so wonderful and I would bring jars of honey to people I worked with and editors, and they would all be like you got to do something with this. This honey is incredible. Oh my God, we love it. They saw the passion, I think, and the honey up there happens to be extremely wonderful. There's a big variety of flowers and different trees, fruit trees, and so pollinators have an incredibly good time there, except for the long winter sometimes are not so great. So I started bringing the idea back upstate of what do I do with this? Maybe I should really consider it. So it took me about six years to decide. You know what. I am going to resign from my job. I had a couple of years money in the bank, which I definitely recommend for anybody who is thinking about starting something. You really need to know that you have some income coming, you know, or in the bank itself. And so in April I resigned, and then in September I had incorporated Catskill Provisions Inc and I was not yet distilling. That came after, but I started really with honey. So I would go upstate harvest honey, put it in a jar, put a label on it and bring it to chefs that I knew in the city. I have always been a foodie, you know. I've always loved food, beverage, hospitality. I was always very attracted to that, and so I just knew a lot of people in that industry, and that's really how Catskill Provisions was born. Today I still have the same customers that I started out with, plus new ones of course, but I'm still, you know, going to these restaurants where you know, like Mark Meyer of the Bowery Restaurant Group and Cook Shop, and you know, really amazing restaurants. They own five restaurants. He was my very first customer, so it's, you know, there's a lot of, you know, pride and satisfaction in what I've done and what I'm doing for sure.

Speaker 1:

Oh, fantastic, and it's Rob Wildflower Honey. Is that correct?

Speaker 2:

Yes, yes, that is our main product. We actually supply about 300 restaurants weekly with honey and then we also do maple syrup as well. We work with a single family that does our maple syrup. Upstate, new York State, makes some of the most amazing maple syrup, and people when I first started in 2010, people did not know New York State maple syrup at all. They were actually selling the maple syrup to Vermont and Vermont was saying that it was maple syrup. You know which, which happens, you know, with, like Spanish olive oil, they branded Italian because people want Italian. You know. So, it's kind of interesting, you know, and so I got a big kick out of showing chefs the things that are being produced right here. You know, in our state you know that they didn't even talk about New York makes maple syrup really, you know, my God, and it's so good. So we also supply that as well.

Speaker 1:

Okay, and your products? They range from. You know you've got a wide range of items from chocolate truffles to whiskey and I know that honey plays an important part in like the honey, whiskey and other products. I mean, maybe focus on the honey aspect first, as far as you know how you're incorporating that into some spirits and how it changes the profile. How does it affect the flavor? Yeah, absolutely.

Speaker 2:

You know, honey for me has always been a flavor stabilizer. You know, it's much more than a sweetener, much more chef use it in salad dressings, for example. You put a little, you know, a few drops or half a teaspoon in your salad dressing and it cuts the acidity of the vinegar. For example, if you have bitter, it balances a bitter flavor. So I started really experimenting with honey and whiskey, you know, and I thought I think rye really could use a drop of honey, because it just, you know, rye is very complex, it's spicy, it's hot, which is great, and those are the reasons why we go to rye. But honestly, with a drop of honey it just smooths the jagged edges so beautifully and it makes rye very sipable, delicious to enjoy, you know. So that was the first idea. Really was New York Rose incredible rye, and it just was the perfect spirit for me to start with. And so I now produce rye aged for three and a half to four years in new American oak barrels and then switch it over to a barrel that I have coated with a little bit of honey and it rests in that barrel for about three to four weeks and it's just absolutely delicious. It is still really one of our very, very most successful spirits.

Speaker 1:

I bet? And do you incorporate it into some cocktails that you sell at your distillery location at the tasting room?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, of course we make an incredible old fashioned. We skip the sugar cube. You know, typically an old fashioned will have the sugar cube, Right. And I tell you, if you have an old fashioned with this whiskey without the sugar cube, you're not going to be able to enjoy a regular old fashioned anymore. Because it is so. The old fashioned now becomes so balanced and you taste the whiskey more. So it's really the way you're going to want to have it forever. It sounds delicious.

Speaker 1:

You were talking about the rye, so I'm curious. Sustainability and locally sourced ingredients they're important to the Catskill provisions, so could you explain maybe how you incorporate these principles into your production process and why it's essential to you to use these local ingredients?

Speaker 2:

It really has always been the motto of the company. Our ethos has always been very much about conserving, being socially responsible. We've never paid anyone, for example, minimum wage. I've never paid anyone minimum wage. It's always a wage. Treating your employees and people that are with you kindly and thoughtfully, and you know those things have always been very important. But nature is so essential to our survival and the survival of the planet and, of course, pollinators may be very aware of the plight that they are going through. Water is extremely important to them and to us. So conserving water is always something that I am always doing, even though we are actually. Our distillery is up on a mountain that's 1800 feet high and our well, for example, our well water, is some of the most delicious water you'll ever drink. Our well is 450 feet deep, you know. So the purity of that water is incredible and there's tons of naturally occurring springs on our mountain. We still conserve water because we will need it Someday. We will have a lack of water, and so you know we use our cleaning water. We use a couple of times we trickle water into barrels. We, you know we're not, we're very thoughtful about water conservation. I don't distill our water, the water that we actually distilled with and proof our spirits down from higher proof alcohol. We use the water directly from our well, which is so delicious and part of the reason why our spirits do taste so wonderful is really there's body to our water. You know we're not distilling it, neutralizing flavors. We want all the natural flavors to really come through. So that's another way that we are not using more electric and wasting a lot of the water from the condensation of it through the distilling process. So we use the whole part of the water, all the parts of the water that we collect. And then also the importance of using local products or ingredients is really less carbon footprint, less delivery trucks and bringing things across the country and that sort of thing. So it really is extremely important for those reasons. And also freshness of product, of course, of ingredients and then stimulating the local economy, keeping it in the state, in our county, whenever we can, in our town wherever we can. Those things really, I think, speak to the success of the area because small, locally focused businesses have increased obviously in popularity and now there's a really nice economy. you know, where we are and, jill, honestly, there are so many times that I meet young people, like in their 20s 30s, who were born and bred in Sullivan County, where we are left to get an education and now come back and have really great paying jobs. So those people now are looking for homes, buying cars, raising families, our school systems are better, you know all those things. So it really has created a really, really nice economy, without a doubt. So I really applaud all of us that have focused on keeping it local and being really responsible.

Speaker 1:

Oh, wonderful, that is so encouraging to hear, and I know you've won lots of awards, and so I'm curious what are your standout products, or what you know some of your favorites, and what type of awards have you won?

Speaker 2:

So the biggest one that really comes to mind for me is our Rye Whiskey, finished in Honeyed Barrels, won a 97 from the Ultimate Spirits Challenge out of 100. So that's really pretty amazing. And then it also won Double Gold, the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Yes, there were many whiskeys from all over the world sent and this was Double Gold meaning. And also my pollinator gin won Double Gold that same year at the same competition, because there were 182 gins sent in and what Double Gold means is that all 50 judges gave it a gold medal, so it becomes Double Gold. So those two won Double Gold that year, which is kind of amazing. And then the next year it was the bourbon that won Double Gold at that same competition. So I have three Double Gold winners, which is really amazing, I have to say, because it is probably the most prestigious award event of the year for anyone in the spirit industry.

Speaker 1:

Oh well, congratulations, that's fantastic. And tell me a little bit about the location and I just remember was it a previously a firehouse? Is that I'm trying to remember? It was such a unique spot.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it really is a beautiful building. It was a fire. It was actually a machine shop, first built in 1945. So everyone would bring all their tractors in the area to this one machine shop in Calicoon, on the Delaware River. That's really where we are in Solomon County, and in 1950, it became the firehouse for the Calicoon area and you know they would fit like two to three fire trucks in there. So it was pretty big. It was really. You know it's about 7,000 square feet. The ceilings are 15 feet high and you know it's just, it really is a beautiful building right in the center of town.

Speaker 1:

So beautiful, so beautiful. The big doors opened up, it just was spacious and warm. And then I remember the tasting room area. Then you get this totally different feel it's bright and airy and light, and you, it's just very. The whole space is so inviting and a wonderful place. And so I'm curious, you know, for if a traveler is interested in experiencing the Sullivan Catskills as well as coming to your distillery, do you have tours or tastings and you know what can someone expect?

Speaker 2:

Absolutely. You could just come to 16 Upper Main Street right, which is right in the center of Calicoon A tasting. There we have a full tasting bar. We're open every day except Wednesday. You could go on our website for hours, you know, we're typically open 11 to 4 every day, so you could come shopping. And then we do offer food and beverages, great cocktails, but you could call ahead to and do a private tour of the distillery, which is really nice, and we have packages, like you know, adding a little charcuterie to it, a cocktail cocktail making class, for example, with me. But we can accommodate a group up to 14 that way and it is so, so lovely. People love coming up and enjoying it like that, you know, in a private group, with all your friends. You know it's really a great thing to do for the day Sounds amazing.

Speaker 1:

On that travel aspect, then, as a business rooted in the Sullivan Cat skills, can you recommend some local attractions, restaurants or experiences that travelers should explore when they're in the region other than coming to visit you?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, no, of course there's. So we are about 35 minutes away from where the local, the location of Woodstock, the Woodstock the concert happened in Bethel, New York, and right in Bethel, New York there is a, an incredible amphitheater concert venue, Bethel Woods, which is stunning, and there is a Woodstock Museum there. So you will see guitars and photography and video and movies and amazing relics from the Woodstock event. You know that happened in 1969. So, yeah, definitely recommend that. It's amazing. There are. There are a couple of alpaca farms that are really cool to you know, family oriented entertainment for sure. Oh, that's interesting. Yeah, it's really great, Great stuff to do, for sure. And then also there is, you know, canoeing. Of course, we're known for fishing. The Delaware River is incredible. There are a lot of beautiful brooks too. If you're into fly fishing, our area is where fly fishing was invented.

Speaker 1:

Yes, and there's a fly fishing museum as well, isn't that correct?

Speaker 2:

Yes, which is so worth the trip. It's in Livingston Manor and it's really amazing and that's like 20 minutes away from us, so in a half hour radius from where our distillery is. There's so much to do. There's great campgrounds, air BNBs, of course, but also great hotels Calicoon Hills. There is the North Branch Inn, nine River Road, great places to stay. There's a great seminary hill. Cidery is lovely in Calicoon gorgeous views and they also provide places for you to stay as well. They have beautiful rooms that you can spend as well, and we also are very much concierge of the area. So don't hesitate to call one of us and ask things to do, places to stay and stuff like that, because I give recommendations constantly to people.

Speaker 1:

That is wonderful, that is so helpful, but you know as someone visiting the area, they're not going to know everything that there is to do.

Speaker 2:

So that's great yeah.

Speaker 1:

Well, claire, thank you so much. I'm so thrilled to have you today, so thank you.

Speaker 2:

Yes, you too, okay, Okay, have a great day.

Speaker 1:

As we travel on this exciting podcasting journey together, I invite you our incredible audience, to be a part of it. Share your own travel stories, insights and recommendations with us, whether you have a hidden gem in your hometown or a dream destination that has captured your imagination, we want to hear from you. Your suggestions will help shape the future episodes of Global Journeys with Jill Dutton, guiding us towards extraordinary locations and experiences that deserve a spotlight. Remember, this podcast is not about just the host or the guests. It's about the collective exploration and discovery that unites us all as wanderers in this vast world. So reach out to us through our website, social media channels or email and let your voice be heard. Send your suggestions to me at Jill at Global Journeys with JillDuttoncom. I can't wait to hear from you. Until next time, may your travels be filled with endless curiosity, open-hearted encounters and transformative adventures. Safe travels, fellow explorers, and keep wandering.

Water Conservation and Award-Winning Spirits