“It’s all about the apple. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the farm.”
Derek Grout grew up on the family farm and founded Harvest Spirits as a way to give back to the place he came from.
His story begins in 2005 when a friend of his brother’s invited him to a distilling conference in New Hampshire. In this two-day course, he met his future business partner and realized what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. His revelation was that while his family was losing profit on apples, he could control the price of that produce by creating spirits from their juice.
“I knew nothing about starting a business and the adversity I would face but I had this blind faith that with the right produce and the right machinery, you would learn. Ignorance is an asset. If you did know everything, you might not get into it in the first place. “
As he attests, his father was gracious enough to let him set up a commercial entity on his farm and you can tell he doesn’t take that for granted. Whether talking about his spirits or the family’s farm stand cider doughnuts, Derek’s passion is evident.
He compares his daily journey as a distiller to equal parts baker, “it’s going to be a little bit different from day to day but people come to you with trust in your product” and perfume maker, “while bread is a commodity, spirits is a luxury, spirits appeal to people’s senses.” In the ten years since Harvest Spirits Distillery launched (right behind the Golden Harvest Farms roadside farm stand), his product line has grown to include Core Vodka, John Henry Single Malt Whiskey, Cornelius Applejack, various fruit brandies, a Grappa and most recently, a line of vinegar.
We spoke about success short and long term and his answer again supported the farm: “Where I’d like to be in two years is to have a more established tasting room, where people can sit down and have a tall glass of hard cider and local cheese with apples. In five years, I would like to have a line of non-alcoholic apple-based drinks. Juice for grown-ups.”
It really is all about the apple.
For those looking to get into the craft spirits business today, we agreed that the industry has and will continue to get more crowded. As Derek noted, “there are a lot of smart people, many well-funded with smart business plans. Comparing it to craft beer’s boom, we have reached the hyper-competitive state.” But from a consumer point of view, he selflessly added, there’s nothing wrong with that!
Visit Harvest Spirits Distillery and Golden Harvest Farms in Valatie, NY (2 hours from NYC) and order and learn more about their products here.
By The Bootstraps is my way of highlighting the stories of intrepid entrepreneurs as they bootstrap their way to success. Every week I’ll release a video (and sometimes audio version) of these conversations. If you’d like to read more about the project or submit your own entrepreneur story for consideration, visit here.