When Claire Marin envisioned her distillery she didn’t just launch a brand, she built a life with Cathy Leidersdorff.
By Anthony Giglio
When Claire Marin moved Upstate to Long Eddy back in 2003, she wasn’t there to keep bees. She was nearing the top of the proverbial ladder in her career as a national magazine publisher, integrating and managing sales departments in an ever-shifting media landscape, encompassing print, digital, events and mobile sales for publications including More and later, Women’s Day. Born in Madrid and raised in New York City, Marin was an avid world traveler, so her decision to seek relief and refuge from the daily pressure in this then-remote corner of the Empire State, where Delaware and Sullivan Counties converge near the Delaware River and Pennsylvania border, was intentional. “I knew it wasn’t the Hudson Valley—Phoenicia was the hot spot at the time. The Delaware side of things, where we are, was (and still remains) very raw,” she tells me. Then she started keeping bees.
Around the same time, she met Cathy Leidersdorff, a flooring contractor and founder of Architectural Flooring Resources, the second-largest flooring business in NYC. “You have walked on many floors she’s done,” says Marin, “like in Apple stores and Carnegie Hall, even the UN!” Leidersdorff had studied agriculture at Cornell University, so Marin decided to buy her “a big Rolls Royce of a beekeeping kit,” sharing her newfound passion, well, with her newfound passion. “I fell in love with her. I fell in love with this area. I fell in love with beekeeping.”
Leidersdorff reciprocated by setting Marin up with her first proper hive and, eventually, convincing her to jointly buy a spectacular 32-acre wooded lot where they now live in a fabulously restored old home. As Marin puts it, “the right thing happened.” When she was managing sales teams in publishing, Marin says she used a lot of different metaphors to motivate her colleagues. “All for the good of the hive,” she’d say.
The hive, she says, is a visually stunning world that clicks and works perfectly. It’s like scuba diving, she says. “You’re on this planet, but in a different world—I feel transported.” Beekeeping became her way of understanding the local terroir and climate. As she got more and more into it, digging further and further into her local ecosystem along the way, she gained an intimate understanding of the struggle of farmers and the poverty in her area. Marin was starting to tune in to a calling that would lead her to quit her fancy job in the city and dedicate her time and energy to supporting all things Catskills. Then she started making honey.
She started giving it to friends as gifts, and everyone kept telling her to make it professionally. Finally, in the spring of 2010, she resigned from Woman’s Day Brand Group and by the fall she had a label designed, her company incorporated as Catskill Provisions and was selling honey to chef friends including Marc Mayer (Bowery Bar, Cook Shop, Vic’s) and Ayesha Nurdjaja (Shuka, Shukette). Today she supplies 300 restaurants in New York and Philadelphia with honey she collects from 300 beehives in Delaware, Sullivan and Madison Counties. Her founding principle is social responsibility. “My business is based on sustainable practices and fair wages, always; I’ve never paid anyone minimum wage. I could be more profitable, but I wouldn’t sleep as well at night.”
With the success of her honey, Marin began asking herself what else she could make with honey, and landed on ketchup, now her best-selling product. A year later, she expanded to farm distilling, inspired when nearby Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery started making a Bourbon (under the Hudson Whiskey NY label). She saw this as a way to revitalize farms and began studying what they could grow and distill. “Rye kept coming up. It’s sustainable, it’s a cover crop, it’s efficient, and it grows when nothing else is growing.” Hence, Catskill Provisions NY Honey Whiskey was born in 2013. I have tasted it many times and can attest to its deliciousness and complexity, especially in an Old Fashioned cocktail, which traditionally calls for muddling fruit with sugar as a base; with NY Honey Whiskey, you don’t need the sugar, and it’s healthier than the processed white stuff.
By 2018, Marin had reached a crossroads. She’d been successfully making spirits using other companies’ distilleries, “and it’s really difficult making Pepsi at the Coca-Cola plant,” she quips, “So I said to Cathy, ‘I can walk away, I’m proud of what I’ve done, or I go all in and do what I really envisioned.’ Cathy replied, ‘I’ll follow you straight to hell, so let’s do it!’” With that, she opened her own distillery on their now 46 acres (they bought an adjacent lot a few years ago), and now she distills 200 feet from her house in an old barn that Cathy’s dad built. In addition to her Honey Whiskey, her portfolio has grown to include a Maple Bourbon, a Pollinator Gin and Bespoke Gin, as well as a Bonfire Rye and Crimson Amaro under her new Pollinator Spirits label.
In 2020, she and Cathy bought an old firehouse in nearby Callicoon—“it’s like an old Western movie set”—and opened what Marin describes as a “gigantic tasting room,” replete with a gorgeous concrete floor designed by Leidersdorff. They weathered the pandemic successfully because the community came together around them. “It’s so attractive to me. I wanted to get more of the local population interested in it.” (They’re interested.)
“And now,” says Marin, “I accidentally opened a restaurant! It’s the last thing I’d ever open, but as you know, when you do a tasting, when you invite the public, you have to feed them—hospitality is so important to me.” If all of this weren’t enough, Marin’s latest additional project is taking her spirits national with direct-to-consumer shipping.
Claire Marin now celebrates two decades with Cathy Leidersdorff, making honey with her, well, honey. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist).