Cracking open your favorite bottle is about more than enjoying a drink; that bottle represents the people behind it and the triumphs and struggles that defined their journey while crafting the spirit you’re about to enjoy. For Claire M Marin, the founder of Catskill Provisions, that journey started decades ago, in the publishing world of all places. After over 15 years spent in the glossy world of magazines, Marin began to feel lost—an experience that many with a demanding job can surely relate to. “I really was so disillusioned with who I had become, where my life was going,” she tells us. “I was making the most money I’ve ever made, but it was just not fulfilling.”
Luckily, Marin had found solace in an unlikely activity: beekeeping, which she had been trekking up to Long Eddy, NY to do on weekends for seven years, since being introduced to the area by her life partner and Catskill Provisions co-founder, Cathy Leidersdorff. It was love at first sight for Marin when it came to beekeeping, and she says for all those years it kept her sanity, describing it as feeling like she was in “another dimension.”
Upon finally leaving the publishing world in 2010 and wondering what was next, Marin began to tinker with bottles of bourbons and ryes, mixing in cinnamon or maple syrup before she felt like she hit the sweet spot with the unexpected combination of rye and honey. Those in the culinary world will recognize the phrase “If it grows together, it goes together,” which Marin applied to this unique combination of flavors—rye was actually a staple crop of Upstate New York until a blight in the early 1900s.
Marin knew then that she had struck a certain kind of gold when she took a sip of that spicy, fiery rye, quenched just enough by the floral, rounded sweetness of homegrown honey.
Over the next eight years, their NY Honey Whiskey was in and out of three different distilleries. Marin had first created her conceptual product in her own kitchen, presenting it to big distillers who could then bring it to life, and ultimately did. Marin says that these years were extremely challenging, though, navigating an overwhelmingly male-dominated industry as a small fish who was well aware of just how good her product was. “In 2017 I finally said, ‘God, you know what, if I’m going to pursue this we can do it two ways: I am so proud of what I built and can just walk away or we go all in because I can’t keep doing this and dealing with the negativity,” Marin tells us. So, with Leidersdorff’s encouragement, she began building the distillery into what it is today.
When we spoke with Marin, she was in the middle of making a mash for a neutral grain spirit that would eventually translate into over one thousand bottles of their popular Pollinator Vodka—a true grain-to-glass expression distilled from local corn and wildflower honey. It’s just one of the several spirits that Catskill Provisions imbues with their special sauce: honey from the apiaries that Marin herself oversees, and creates an ongoing connection point between the distiller’s passion and the lips of those who enjoy drinking it.
A standout star of the Catskill Provisions line-up remains their NY Honey Whiskey that started it all, but Marin and Leidersdorff are always concocting something new and tasty to serve to the customers that visit them in the repurposed firehouse that’s home to the distillery’s tasting room, in the charming town of Callicoon—just a 10-minute drive from Long Eddy.
Currently on the horizon is an amari trio: a black walnut Nocino, a crimson amaro that is the duo’s self-proclaimed answer to Campari and a vermouth. “I’m actually working with Kathy on those,” Marin says excitedly. “She’s my little alchemist. She’s just taken to it, so it’s wonderful. I make the base spirit for her, and she brings in the botanicals, the recipes and then we work on the final product together to bring it to life.”
Remaining 100 percent women-owned and self-funded has always been crucial for the pair, especially after Marin’s first several years in the distilling world. When she made the decision to dive in on her own, Catskill Provisions became only the sixth women-owned craft distillery in the country at the time—out of over 1,700. Marin says that when she looks around today, she’s starting to see more of a welcomed shift in the industry, but there’s still plenty of work to be done. She hopes that customers start to pay attention to why women-owned distilleries are not only necessary for the industry to continue to thrive, but also to innovate.
We’re different, and that’s wonderful
“When people look at us a little bit deeper than just the bottle, or if you look a little bit under the hood, you’d realize there’s so much thoughtfulness and intention [at Catskill Provisions] because we are women,” says Marin. “Kathy and I both love men and we’re not women that have these sort of antagonistic relations. It’s just weird. We’re different. And that’s wonderful.”
Images courtesy of Catskill Provisions