In the midst of my recent tour and tasting at Myer Farm Distillers near Ovid, I asked owner and distiller Joe Myer about the decision to pursue flavored spirits. It is a direction that liquor purists at times decry, in contrast to the otherwise very serious nature of the distilling operation. Noting that he was accommodating consumer demand for such products, Joe offered a distinction: “This is not just using concentrated additives like many producers,” he reminded me. “We infuse real flavors.”
Indeed, the coffee-flavored vodka that Myer offers is absolutely delicious (as were all the infused-flavored products). Joe had a lengthy explanation as to the experimentation that went into creating the spirit, the trials that went into finding the right balance to create an authentic taste, and the partnership with Gimme! Coffee to provide the best raw materials.
Myer Farm Distillers is a high-end distilling operation that aims to please both those with refined tastes and those who are looking for a wider variety of accessible products. If you want well-crafted and finely aged whiskeys, Myer is your place, but if you can’t imagine drinking anything neat, the distillery also has a variety of options from flavored vodkas to cocktails mixed on site.
The Myer farm has been around for hundreds of years. In recent years, it has shifted away from dairy production to the growth of fine organic grains. Joe’s brother, John, is the main agriculturalist. As both Joe and John considered a partnership in something related to agro-tourism, they ruled out a vineyard/winery and focused instead on founding a distillery.
“I’ve always appreciated spirits,” said Joe, who spent many previous years in arts-related industries. “There’s a wide range of what can be done, and I wanted to create that which was not widely available.”
He likens distilling to painting, and wanted to take a monochromatic element like alcohol and push out its expression, like an expanding palette of colors. Myer Farm Distillers has a variety of spirits that are very difficult to find, such as aged gin, and some that are wholly unique, like ginger-infused rye whiskey.
In its fourth year of production, the company lies on a gentle slope on the western edge of Cayuga Lake, with a commanding but friendly tasting room overlooking the fields below. The German-made still is featured prominently in a window next to the tasting room; its sprawling steel-and-copper mechanisms provide a whimsical display for onlookers.
Distilling is just as much about precision as expression, and during my visit, Joe excused himself several times to attend to the still, taking copious notes about the run. Spirits start off with a fermented mash, not dissimilar in concept to beer or wine, but the next step becomes rather complex. In summary, a column still takes vapors from heated mash and, in essence, allows the alcohol vapors to be separated from water through thermal surface reactions on plates throughout the column. After the ethanol is reconstituted, spirits are cut with water (vodka) or aged in barrels (whiskey).
Small batch distilling is not easy. During a normal run, Joe is busy making sure that everything is working well over the course of the six- to eight-hour process. The complexities of infusion – for instance, where what could be a vodka instead becomes a gin in the midst of the distilling process – provides ample opportunities for creativity yet demands precision as well.
Joe is distinctly proud of the lineup at Myer. In terms of the bourbons, whiskeys and rye whiskeys, he has pursued a select barrel aging program. The gin is made with a botanicals selection that Joe perfected over many experimental batches. Even the pineapple-infused vodka has a story; one Joe is willing to share with customers who want to know more about how quality spirits are made.
“For me, distilling is about transferring creative energies and motivations into something I can share with others,” Joe reflected at the onset of our meeting. “It was scary diving in, but I feel we’ve only gotten better with time.”
I tasted through the lineup at Myer and was impressed. The gin is distinct enough to warrant attention, and the aged gin is a real treat with soft vanilla notes and a long, smooth finish.
The two-year aged single barrel bourbon is a standout, and seems to want to go in a bunch of different directions all at once. This spirit is for curious drinkers.
There are a variety of infused vodkas and even a ginger-infused rye whiskey that is excellent. Even if these don’t sound like your thing, they are all well-made and surprisingly balanced. When at Myer, try everything and keep an open mind.
Myer Farm Distilling is open seven days a week all year long. It is located on the western shore of Cayuga Lake right near Ovid along Route 89.
story and photos by Jason Feulner