Dutch’s Spirits Recall New York’s Rum-Running Past

Dutch's Spirits.
Dutch's Spirits.

The spirit of Dutch Schultz is alive and well and living in the Hamptons. No, we’re not saying that rum-running is back. What we are saying is that, in a growing number of local bars and liquor stores, you can go in and ask for Dutch’s Spirits—in the form of Dutch’s New York Sugar Wash Moonshine—and get a taste of what Dutch was all about.

This moonshine is a clear, clean-tasting libation, a lot like a light rum, but the history behind this booze is anything but straightforward.

The story starts with the figure of Dutch Schultz himself, a legendary character in the annals of New York crime. Born Arthur Flegenheimer in the Bronx in 1901, he adopted the mobster moniker “Dutch,” which was a common nickname for a German-American, and appropriated the name “Schultz” from the name of the trucking company he worked for. Sent to Blackwell’s Island for burglary at the age of 18, Dutch proved to be such a troublemaker that he was shipped out to the prison farm in Westhampton, which is where he may have become aware of the criminal potentials of Long Island’s East End. Paroled in 1920, he went back into the trucking business and was soon deeply involved in rum-running, especially on Long Island where members of his gang were notorious for hijacking other rumrunners’ shipments.

Prohibition proved lucrative for Dutch, as he became involved in all aspects of the illegal distribution of alcohol—owning and operating speakeasies, owning trucks for transporting beer and liquor, and preventing rival mobsters from invading his territory. Eventually, he even got involved in production, reportedly investing in a massive, illicit distillery in the wilds of Dutchess County. In the spring of 1932, rotating teams of workers labored to build this facility in underground bunkers on a rustic turkey farm in Pine Plains, NY, and soon were busy turning sugar into hard alcohol—moonshine. Bottled up and ready to ship, this was the forerunner of today’s Dutch’s Spirits.

That original moonshine didn’t stay on the market for long, though. Unfortunately for Dutch, and despite the rural seclusion and the extreme efforts to disguise the operation, federal authorities moved in in a high profile raid in the autumn of 1932. Perhaps the feds were made suspicious by the sheer volume of sugar being delivered to what was supposedly a turkey farm. At any rate, the whole operation was shut down, and tons of equipment was destroyed. Dutch Schultz was taken out in a mob hit in 1935, and the underground bunkers were left to molder and decay for close to 80 years.

Fast-forward to 2008, when the sequence of events began which has brought the old bunkers back into production. In 2008, New York passed a farm distilling law, which has greatly reduced the regulatory burden and expense of running a small farm-based distillery in the state. In July of 2011, the site of the old distillery was mapped for inclusion on New York’s Archeological Inventory and was also deemed eligible for inclusion in New York’s Registry of Historic Places. Now you can visit this amazing place and explore the tunnel system and marvel at the sheer audacity of those long-gone gangsters.

Then there’s the booze. A new still has gone into production on the site—completely licensed and legal this time!—with plans to produce “grain to bottle” spirits, made with grains harvested on-site and on other New York State farms. Dutch’s Spirits New York Sugar Wash Moonshine is just the first offering to go into production, along with Dutch’s Spirits American Era Cocktail Bitters, a trio of cocktail bitters that connoisseurs consider to be first class.

Locally, Dutch’s Spirits can be found at several restaurants and stores, including Water Street Wines and Spirits in Sag Harbor, Almond in Bridgehampton, Town Line BBQ in Sagaponack, and at Amagansett Wine and Spirits. It may be as close to rum-running as you’re going to get.

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