“The flavor profiles are exactly where they need to be,” says Claire Marin of Catskill Provisions Distillery and Pollinator Spirits; and it’s time to celebrate. Not only has the company pushed through some tough challenges over the years, but Marin’s evolution from publishing and media executive to beekeeper, and today as a spirits entrepreneur, recently hit a decade-long milestone. In addition to the growth and changing face of the distillery in Callicoon, New York, the Pollinator Spirits product line has turned three this year, and is flying off the shelves.
“People are really going out of their way to find us,” she says, which is why Pollinator Spirits just became available nationwide after solely being sold in the Northeast its first three years. With such momentum and demand, Marin has decided to focus the business efforts on the growing line and shift away from some of the facets of the previous model. For example, Marin is paring back the restaurant in order to better support the spirits line and overall direction of the company. “Pollinator is really creating traction,” she says. “It’s the type of momentum that sticks, and you can really feel the difference.” Their popular charcuterie boards, however, will continue to be offered during tastings at the distillery.
Bees and Booze
From Madrid to Manhattan to these days splitting time between New York City and The Catskills, Marin and wife, Cathy Leidersdorff, (CEO of Architectural Flooring Resource) try to balance their lives and their routines in various locales. Having fallen in love with the agricultural potential of the region, where the Catskills and Delaware River intersect, Marin has now called the area home for twenty years. In addition to the creation of honey and honey-infused products, when she learned the area was prime for rye, a new path and concept was born. She first experimented with the production of spirits in other facilities, before Catskills Provisions came to fruition in 2010 with a Honey Rye Whiskey. From there, the line grew to Bourbons, Gins, and Vodka, all with a light infusion of honey running throughout, which gives the overall taste of her company’s spirits a softer tone, and a subtler sweet note on the palate than some may find in similar products from competitors.
The distillery itself, which is a former firehouse, opened its doors in 2019 just before the pandemic; shifting and pivoting have just been a regular part of business. Being able to modify the space and keep it running despite ever-changing events, like a global pandemic or the environmental changes radically affecting the life of bees, continue to be issues Marin and her team face regularly. When asked about direct changes with bee production, she says, “Many in the area have lost their bees altogether, therefore, production of honey comb in the region has been down,” she explains. It creates a domino effect. With production down, that affects demand, and affects chefs, in particular, who rely on standing orders for dishes they create that highlight comb or honey. They have to curb usage and modify how it is used in their kitchens. “Climate change is a slap in our faces,” she adds. “It’s not 2030 but now.” (Catskill Provisions gives 3% of all proceeds to various pollinator causes).
Today, Marin and her team sell honey and spirits to over 300 restaurants in New York City alone. Chef Ayesha Nurdjaja, a 2022 James Beard nominee, is the co-owner of two of them. Shuka and Shukette are two Mediterranean restaurants with menus featuring items that rely on quality honey from cocktails to desserts. “I’ve been exclusively using Catskill Provisions honey for years,” Nurdjaja mentions. “Its the quality of the product that speaks to me.” She continues, “The honey business internationally is corrupt, so, knowing where the ingredients are sourced is especially important. I can trust that anything [Marin] puts out, whether its honey or spirits, is ethically and locally sourced, and doesn’t use any additives.
Natural and using no additives, even coloring, is essential for Marin in her business. For example, the Crimson Amaro, the latest product from the Pollinator Spirits line, uses cochineal dye to give it its deep, rich, jewel-red color. Marin says it makes an incredible, herbaceous Negroni.
Consumers have gotten more savvy and more in-tune with process and ingredients. There’s more of an desire, urgency even, to understand where products come from, how they are made, and to learn about who is behind each product. There’s a level of traceability with her business that Marin is proud to promote. The company also boasts carbon neutrality and a close-to-zero waste facility. Marin notes, “Our spent grains go to nearby farmers, and we are currently moving toward compostable goods in the tasting room.”
When discussing the attention placed lately on non-alcoholic beverages or “healthier drinking,” wherein consumers who still consume alcohol, cut back on quantity, focus the quality, and perhaps, choose drinks with lower ABV levels, Marin says she actually follows her own lead when deciding where the numbers should fall. With regard to habits, health, and her palate, she says CP’s numbers are already lower than some of the industry’s large producers who create products with mass quantities of neutral grain spirit, and who don’t not really pay attention to purity of product. “You just don’t feel as well when drinking those beverages; it is important to me that our products be pure and natural.” So, if you do you consume alcohol, you are consuming quality, traceable ingredients, with, in most cases, lower ABV. The new Crimson Amaro, for example, is 24 ABV. “I lowered the numbers instinctually because that’s what I wanted. And I believe overall, we’re on the right track with what consumers want.”
According to Empire State Development, there’s upwards of 200 distillers just in New York, and, since the Farm Distillery Act made way for the craft beverage boom in 2007, the number of women-led distillers is growing. But the number of women-led, LGBTQ, self-funded, award-winning distillers may be even smaller. So, let’s raise a glass and make some some noise, or create a buzz, rather, for companies like Catskill Provisions, with lines like Pollinator Spirits, and CEOs like Claire Marin, who not only want to add to our gatherings with quality products, but raise concern for the environment and agriculture, and the sound the alarm of importance for our friends, the bees.