The Cooperstown Distillery is located a few blocks off of Main Street in Cooperstown, New York in an unassuming area. We aren’t big drinkers but we’d never been to an artisanal distillery either. We thought it would be interesting to see how vodka was made. Most people have heard about Ommegang Brewery near Cooperstown, but not as many know about artisanal, handcrafted spirits. At least not us.
What Exactly are Hand Crafted Spirits?
Handcrafted and artisanal are very popular buzz words in the spirit, brewing and food industries. Everyone seems to be claiming that their spirits or brews or food are handmade or artisanal.
But what does this mean?
According to some definitions, craft distillers must distill and bottle on-site, be independently owned and sell less than 100,000 cases a year. Alcoholic beverage industry members cannot own more than 25% of the distillery.
Well, that certainly clarifies things.
But, what does this really mean?
Well, step into Cooperstown Distillery and you will find out what this really means. Gene, the owner, is passionate about what he does. He and his team carefully go through every step by hand, including filling and labeling the bottles. They will not let a drop out of the distillery until it meets their very high standards.
Meet Gene Marra
Gene Marra is the owner and Distiller. He has a long history in the food and beverage industry, first as a Culinary Institute of America trained chef, then as a winemaker and a restaurant consultant. He opened Cooperstown Distillery 5 years ago. Gene is as passionate about Cooperstown and local sourcing as he is about distilling.
Gene originally came to Cooperstown with the idea of marrying baseball and spirits. All of the original professional ballparks were owned by brewers. Gene created a patented baseball bourbon bottle with a baseball diamond underneath and an ash finish stopper. Baseball fans will know that bats are made of ash.
Distilling at the Cooperstown Distillery
Gene took us into the back to see the distilleries and explained the whole process of making spirits. The stills were fascinating and beautiful. And, small–only 40 gallons compared to stills that have tens of thousands of gallons.
My favorite part was his explanations of the heads, hearts and tails at the very end of the distilling process.The heads come out of the still first and are not drinkable. They are used for cleaning and lighting grills and smell like nail polish remover. The hearts are the sweet spot of what they bottle and sell. The tails are the very end and they are saved to be re-distilled.
The big distillers use mechanization and timers to separate the heads, hearts and tails. That means some heads and tails can end up in the bottle. In craft distillers, this is a sensory process. They taste and smell the difference between heads, hearts and tails. That’s one of the reasons that craft spirits are more refined.
And Then The Tasting Began
First we started sampling the gin, then progressed to vodka, bourbon and whiskey, we also tasted a rare oak-aged gin. We mainly drink vodka and do not like whisky, rye or bourbon. The spirits at Cooperstown Distillery were so different from anything that we’d ever tasted. The vodka was smooth and delicate without the harsh taste of some vodkas. And the bourbon, well, we can no longer say that we don’t like bourbon.
Gene explained that he uses corn, rye and oats in his bourbon. He said that Cooperstown Distillery is the only distillery that uses oats and that distinct flavor profile of their bourbon comes from the oats.
Small and Handcrafted
Cooperstown Distillery produces 8,000 cases a year. Next year, they are expanding and hope to do 10,000 cases. This is a very small distillery even in the realm of craft distilleries. They are certified as a New York State Farm Distillery which means they are required to use 75% New York State Grains.
If you are interested in spirits and want to see how a small craft distillery is run, the Cooperstown Distillery is certainly a place for you to visit and tour.
Is it Accessible?
The Cooperstown Distillery is accessible. The building is on one level and the entrance does not have any steps. There is a doorway to go through to take the backroom tour and it appeared wide enough for wheelchair. If you have difficulty walking, the space is small. We stood for the 1 hour tour. If standing is a challenge, you should inquire in advance about the possibility of sitting in chair for the tour.
Should I Take My Family?
We would not recommend this tour for families of young children or young people that are underage.
What is the Cooperstown Beverage Exchange?
The Cooperstown Distillery also runs the Beverage Exchange (75 Main Street a few doors away from the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum). The Beverage Exchange sells and offers tastings of locally crafted spirits, beer, wine, and ciders. If you are interested in a tasting only, the Beverage Exchange is the place to go. For a tour, you’ll have to go to the Distillery a few blocks away.
The Beverage Exchange is open from 10 am-5 pm. At night (from 5 pm-10 pm), it is a gastropub.
6 Tips for Visiting the Cooperstown Distillery
- If you love spirits and want to learn more about craft spirits, take the tour.
- If you are not much of a drinker (and we are in this camp), it is still very interesting to take a tour.
- Tours are at 2 pm on Saturdays in the Fall/Winter/Spring and more frequently in the summer. Tours cost $11.
- If your only interest is in a tasting, drop by the Beverage Exchange. If you want to do a tour, then go to the Distillery.
- The Distillery is located at 11 Railroad Avenue and this is the website link.
- To be on the safe side, you might consider taking the Cooperstown Trolley back to your hotel or B&B after a tasting.
Interested in the Baseball Hall of Fame and other Cooperstown Attractions? Check out Best of Cooperstown Stay–Baseball, Art and Culture
Looking for a place to stay in Cooperstown? We stayed at the Rose and Thistle B&B.
If you use our affiliate link (above), we make a small commission. It does not affect the price of your stay.
Have you Been to a Craft Distillery? I’d love to see your Comments on this Post.
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I didn’t know vodka was made in the USA too. Interesting. Thanks.
There are craft distilleries in many places in the US.
Wow, I had no idea there was a distillery in Cooperstown. Also neat to learn what exactlyhandcrafted means and to see soeone who is so passionate aboutwhat they do.
Thanks. There are beer breweries as well–Ommegang and Red Shed.
What a fascinating experience! I’ve been wondering myself what exactly the Hand Crafted spirits or beer means. Great read
Thanks! Glad that you enjoyed.
This is really interesting – i wonder how many subtle variations you can taste in (good) vodka once you learn a bit about it
Thanks! I think people with a refined palate can taste a lot of subtleties.
I have not visited a craft distillery, but we just went to the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg, TN (still in a dry county!). It was supremely fascinating. I went in only starting to come to terms with the taste of whisky, thank to an education from my son. But I came out of the tasting liking all five varieties. I was the only one of our group of seven that could say that.