Don’t worry, we have a designated pilot” is not a phrase one often hears in a tasting room. An innovative collaboration between Independent Helicopters and some local craft beverage producers, however, might just change that.
Independent Helicopters has been wowing sightseers with scenic tours around the Hudson Valley, Saratoga, and New York City since 2008. Recently, it embarked on a venture that will give imbibers another reason to raise a glass— their new “High Spirits Tours.”
The half-hour-long tour provides adventure seekers an aerial view of the Hudson Valley’s sprawling topography and magnificent Shawangunk Mountains before landing on the grounds of Apple Dave’s Orchard and Distillery in Warwick, or Orange County Distillers at Brown Barn Farms in New Hampton.
After sampling Apple Dave’s cult-fave, freeze-distilled applejack spirits, visitors can opt to walk over to Applewood Winery, a few steps away, for a flight or a bite at the Cider Café before heading back on their “sky Uber” and views of the Appalachian Trail above Apple Dave’s Lake. At Orange County Distillers, located in the coveted Black Dirt region, a VIP experience awaits. The crew will meet you at the chopper and escort you to the tasting room to sample their farm-to-bottle spirits.
The option to choose one or both venues on a tour is available. A tour upgrade includes a custom tumbler to bring a favorite beverage along on the journey.
Independent Helicopters founder Heather Howley, who took up flying in 2005 when less than 4% of pilots were women, says the Hudson Valley is one of her favorite places to fly due to its diversity.
“The views of rolling hills, the Catskill Mountains in the distance, the Shawangunk Mountain ridge, and the Hudson River are all breathtaking” she says. “Then there’s West Point Military Academy, Storm King Art Center, Woodbury Commons, and Mount Beacon. From a slightly higher altitude, you may even catch the NYC skyline in the distance. Then on the way back to Warwick, there’s Legoland and the Black Dirt farms.”
While these locales are familiar to many on the ground, you can only imagine how spectacular they’d be from a bird’s-eye perspective. “The aerial views are stunning in every season,” Howley adds.
Sights with a Flight
At the tasting rooms, the offerings are just as diverse as the landscape. In spring and summer, Apple Dave’s is hopping with families enjoying picnics and taking in views from the lawn. During the fall, it is a destination for pumpkin and apple picking, and autumnal cocktails layered with other hyper-local ingredients—including fresh herbs grown onsite. In the winter, hot toddies and mulled cider drinks warm the soul. An array of local craft beers and wines are also available.
If time allows for a stop at Applewood Winery, visitors can sample a flight of wines or meads, or sip one of the rotating styles of Naked Flock cider available on tap. Both spots have live music and an array of events, so check the websites to plan a trip accordingly.
Orange County Distillery offers a menu of craft cocktails to choose from, plus a craft beer bar featuring Orange County Brewing Company. A rotation of local food trucks operates on certain days of the week, and live music is offered weekly.
A Variety of Uplifting Experiences
Since its founding, Independent Helicopters has grown to a fleet of 9 helicopters with a crew of ten licensed pilots to accommodate its ever-popular tours, including the West Point Tour (which flies along Hudson, West Point, Mount Beacon, and Bannerman’s Castle) and the Fall Foliage Tour (which passes along the Shawangunk Ridge, Catskills, or West Point). Book these tours at least a week in advance, especially once leaf-peeping season begins.
A half-hour, experience-of-a-lifetime is as affordable as it is exhilarating. The cost is just $325 for a 30 minute tour with up to three people. Pick-up and drop-off locations are convenient from New York City, Stewart Airport, or a number of Hudson Valley sites. Out-of-towners can get door-to-door service from several local hotels, such as Resorts World Casino, Glenmere, and Mohonk Mountain House.
Custom tours are also available for special occasions, such as weddings, proposals, and gender reveals, and can be arranged to and from several locations. Ever thought of DIY flying? Independent offers flight classes and aerial photography excursions.
Howley plans on adding more High Spirits Tours to their offerings in the future. “This is a unique tourism attraction to have here in the Hudson Valley,” she says, “it promotes our craft beverage sites, the area and its history, as well as showcases an inspiring aerial view.”
Maybe a “Views and Brews” package will be available next!
Book a tour here.