Frank Rizzo | Democrat
A FAMILIAR SIGHT to passersby on Route 17B, this historic Bethel home is getting a complete makeover, inside and out, thanks to carpenters from Built to Last, Inc. in Rock Hill and plumbers from Kirtack Plumbing and Heating in Monticello.
Distilling their dream of land-based business
By Dan Hust
BETHEL Stacy Cohen surveys Route 17B in Bethel. The famed hometown of Woodstock looks empty to her.
And despite the presence of Sullivan County’s premier tourist attraction, Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, just a mile away, the hamlet features only two businesses and several unoccupied homes.
Cohen and her husband, Monte Sachs, aim to change that, thanks to a new law in New York that permits them to use the land in a way quite common a century ago.
Work is already ongoing at what will become the Dancing Cat farm distillery in Bethel, right on 17B at a 100-year-old house familiar to passersby.
Its peeling red paint and disappearing shingles are being replaced, and Cohen and Sachs hope that by this time next year it will be a cafe where people can literally purchase the fruits of their labor.
“We can make it, and we can sell it,” notes Cohen.
She’s referring to a range of products, including vodka, baby bourbon, gin, whiskey, brandy and grappa, distilled from local farmers’ crops and fruit orchards soon to be planted on site.
Tastings, tours of the distillation process and sales of those products will occur inside a 5,000-square-foot facility that will begin construction this month. Its design and the nearby house’s renovations are based on ideas generated by Sachs and models created by Cohen’s mother, Audrey.
A total of nine acres spanning 17B will host a vineyard and various fruit-bearing plants, say Cohen and Sachs, which along with local farmers’ wheat and rye crops will be distilled into various types of alcoholic beverages.
The cafe will serve these products, along with serving as a showcase for local musical talent (Cohen is a musician herself, leading a group called Stacy and Friends) and local history.
Sales cannot be by direct-mail but will include local and NYC restaurants. Whatever is not served or sold will be recycled, Cohen adds.
“The byproduct of distilled spirits becomes wonderful cow food!” she says.
The steam generated from the distillation process will be used to heat the facility’s floors.
And thanks to a prime southern view perfect for making electricity from the sun, “this will be the largest solar project in Sullivan County,” adds Sachs.
“It will be more like a park than a production facility,” Cohen notes. “It will be a nice thing to add to the county’s ecotourism.”
Just yards from the Hurd Road entrance to Bethel Woods, the distillery which will be open year-round will likely be a popular draw for visitors, which is why it’s already gained popularity with local politicians.
In fact, the expensive distilling equipment has been ordered from Germany thanks to a $295,000 Rural Business Enterprise Grant secured through the Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency (IDA).
“I am still amazed at the way everyone came together to make this happen,” says Sachs of his million-dollar project. “There were so many people on the state, county and town level who are behind this project and played a part in the grant process.”
“Something like this along 17B ... will maybe be an anchor, albeit small, for similar ventures that will draw people to the area,” explains Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development President Tim McCausland, who says there are two other farm distilleries planned for the county and envisions a “distillery trail” similar to the Finger Lakes’ wine trails. “It truly will be a craft enterprise, an artisan approach.”
Sachs’ inspiration arose from spending eight years in Italy, where this kind of setup is common. The horse veterinarian and his wife, a partner in the Gersten-Hillman Insurance Agency in Monticello, wanted to bring that back to their hometown of White Lake.
They settled on what they feel is the perfect spot in Bethel.
“In my mind, what I’m really doing is opening up the town,” Cohen reiterates as she looks at the traffic speeding through the hamlet. “It will be good for us, for the local economy and good for the state.
“We’re bringing another magic field to Bethel!”