Murray’s Fools A Distilled Family History By Gina Agnano Tucked amidst the pines along a pristine brook sits a small white building. From the outside, it is difficult to imagine just how much is going on beyond the front door. But to those who know, the hanging white sign emblazoned with black letters announcing “Murray’s Fools Distilling Co.” evokes visions of finely crafted small-batch liquors steeped in a juicy family history. W.H.H. Murray’s 1869 book, “Adventures in the Wilderness,” excited a rush of “fools” to travel north and experience the untamed Adirondack wilderness. Now, 150 years later, people are drawn…
- Champlain Taste
- May 29, 2019
- by web-staff-1
A Distilled Family History
By Gina Agnano
Tucked amidst the pines along a pristine brook sits a small white building. From the outside, it is difficult to imagine just how much is going on beyond the front door. But to those who know, the hanging white sign emblazoned with black letters announcing “Murray’s Fools Distilling Co.” evokes visions of finely crafted small-batch liquors steeped in a juicy family history.
W.H.H. Murray’s 1869 book, “Adventures in the Wilderness,” excited a rush of “fools” to travel north and experience the untamed Adirondack wilderness. Now, 150 years later, people are drawn north to the Altona distillery that bears Murray’s name. Founded in 2015 by his great-great-grandson Randall Beach and his wife, Sarah Beach, the distillery keeps the Murray name alive.
Much like the original explorer, the couple struck out on their own adventure creating a small-batch distillery distinguished by their personal vision. From the interior, the walls, the stills (which are a ectionately named after their mothers, Barbara Anne and Lois Ann), right down to the water well, Randall and Sarah have built Murray’s Fools using skilled hands and sharp minds.
In the summer of 1869, a few months after Murray’s “Adventures in the Wilderness” was published, people from New York and Boston decided they could venture into the wilderness as well. An astonishing 3,000 – 5,000 people arrived in the North Country that season. But there were only two hotels in the Adirondacks and just a few boarding houses.
“It was largely a disaster that summer,” Randall says. It was a rainy, buggy summer — meaning loads of biting black ies — and guides were limited, which prompted more waiting than adventuring in towns like Whitehall and Comstock. Some people left feeling disgruntled. Some left having never even seen the Adirondacks. When the papers caught wind of this upstate asco, they were less than kind.
They quickly dubbed these people “Murray’s Fools.” What eventually became known as “Murray’s Rush” persisted from 1869 – 1874 and, after the rst summer, was hugely successful, resulting in the construction of opulent lakeside camps and new hotels. By the end of the 1870s there were 200 hotels and camps in the Adirondacks; Murray’s Fools sparked a tourism boom. Many of these great camps are still in use today, such as Pine Knot on Raquette Lake and the Knollwood Club on the Lower Saranac Lake. “Adventures in the Wilderness” also became known as one of the most in uential books of the conservation movement of the late 1800s.
Because of his entrepreneurial spirit, progressive wilderness thinking and lasting impact on the Adirondacks, a place the couple loves dearly, Randall and Sarah try to honor Murray through their own enterprise: distilling vodka, brandy, whiskey and aquavit with only regional ingredients.
“Every product, we try to do something around Murray,” Sarah says. “The Snowshoe Vodka was because he lived in Montréal for a while and he had an oyster cafe called the Snowshoe Cafe.”
And the list goes on: one of Murray’s 14 published books was about Lake Champlain, prompting Randall and Sarah to name their apple brandy Le Pom Du Luc, meaning the apple of the lake.
The Osprey Aquavit gets its name from Murray’s Osprey Island camp on Raquette Lake, which used to be known as “Murray Island.”
“Well, he used to call it Murray Island, and it was on the map. But, he didn’t own it, he just stayed there lots,” Randall says with a laugh.
However, Murray wasn’t the reason the couple began distilling. They had started a whiskey tasting club in Schenectady. One night, as Sarah’s brother was visiting, the couple wondered aloud about whether they could actually make their own whiskey. Sarah’s brother assured them it was possible; the couple got spirited away by the challenge. ey chose to take a class in Seattle, shipping o to the Pacific Northwest for a week-long course that taught them everything, except, oddly enough, how to make liquor. The course covered topics from liquor laws to clamping down hoses, but the actual distilling process was wholly self-taught through patience and experimentation.
“It’s 85 percent janitorial work,” Randall says.
The couple admits they did quite a bit of bumbling about in the beginning, and soon became immune to the inevitable frustrations that come with distilling. In 2016, Sarah and Randall triumphantly bottled their rst batch of Snowshoe Vodka.
“You’ve got to carry on and try again, or try something di erent,” Sarah says.
Three years ago, the couple traveled to Norway where Sarah fell in love with the Scandinavian liquor Aquavit. Using a small copper still she trots out for smaller batches, she practiced different recipes.
After researching, she came up with three recipes she liked, all containing the same base avors of caraway and dill. A focus group almost unanimously landed on one recipe, with added hints of juniper and citrus.
This summer, weather permitting, the couple hopes their grand opening will bring a new rush to the Adirondacks.
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