“Heimat” can’t entirely be translated from German but if you plug it into Google Translate, it churns out “homeland”.
Ute Londrigan grew up in a small village outside of Düsseldorf in Germany and was inspired by her grandmother who would steep homemade liqueurs in the basement from local garden fruit varieties. Ute began to do the same in her new home of Mamaroneck, NY, when her friends inspired her to launch her line, which she aptly named Heimat: a marriage of her grandmother’s technique with homegrown New York fruit.
Tell me about your grandmother and her fruit liqueurs that were the inspiration for what you make at Heimat.
Making liqueurs is common in Germany. Back in the day, you simply used the fruit from your garden. Part of the harvest was for canning and jams, and part of it was to make these liqueurs. She made them in the basement, and no one was allowed to touch anything; she was in charge. She would go downstairs, check to see if they were ready, and whenever they were, she would have them for special occasions—like after coffee and cake, which is huge in Germany. So, you have your coffee and cake, and then after that, you have a little glass of liqueur. That was then, though. It’s not big anymore, even though coffee and cake still are.
How did you end up in New York?
I was in marketing before. I worked in marketing for a chocolate company, and then I was in charge of new product development for one of Germany’s biggest breweries. We left Germany when our daughter was five months old and moved to Asia for four years, where we had our boy. Then, my husband was transferred to New York. I was a mom, I was happy, but I knew that I didn’t want to go back to all the traveling. I was making liqueurs here for family and friends, and they encouraged me to start Heimat; I just did it. It took a long time to figure out all the legalities and find a space, but in the end, everything worked out and in 2018, we were finally ready to open.
Did your grandmother macerate the fruit in alcohol? Do you do anything differently now?
All of our liqueurs are made just like my grandmother made them. I steep the fruit in alcohol. I use a corn-base spirit. Only a little sugar is needed because I don’t like the products to be overly sweet. It sits for about eight to 12 weeks before you press and then I triple-filter.
I would love to do it in my basement, but back then, they did maybe five liters or a gallon for batches. It would last through the winter, and it tasted like the real fruit. So, throughout the winter, you can indulge in these beautiful fruits when they’re not available. Nowadays, everything is available but a blackberry in the winter tastes much different from the blackberries we get from the farms here.
For me, I want to capture the fruit in the bottle, give you the true flavor of the fruit without it feeling artificial.
And are all your fruits from local sources? How did you find them?
The first year was research. We looked around, we called different farms and farmer’s markets to find out who we could work with. We got connected to various farmers and it was amazing to see that once you had one contact, you got more and more.
Do you plan out what you’d like to make or do you let the harvests dictate your next product?
I do plan. It’s impossible to go and see because we need to have fruits that are available in larger quantities. We knew right away that this year we were going to go with six fruits: rhubarb (which is not a fruit, it’s a vegetable, but I like to call it a fruit), white peach, blackberry, cranberry, and pear. We have one more coming that we will launch in November.
Do you work with the farmers on what you’re going to produce for Heimat?
One farmer we work with is so excited about what we do at Heimat that he came to us last year with the idea for our new fruit. He’s also the one who planted the blackberry bushes we use and he’s already planted more bushes so that we can produce more of the liqueur this year.
I love the farmers that we work with because they are all family-owned and proud of what they do. They leave the fruits on the trees and bushes even longer just for us and our liqueurs: simply to make sure we have as much flavor as possible.
Do you adjust your recipe to the fruit you’re using? Do you use the same base for each liqueur?
Each fruit is so different. It’s not just the sugar content that varies, but also the time needed to steep while some need more preparations than others. Every fruit is completely different but the base is the same.
We have a small distillery in Port Chester and they produce our base spirit for us. It’s a corn base but we now switched to a malt base. The quantities we are using are too high and it’s too difficult to get New York corn. Since our goal is to source everything from New York, we made the change.
How were you affected by Covid-19?
I won’t complain because we are so lucky that we’re healthy and can still sell our products. We were supposed to do the signature cocktail for the US Open Golf Tournament, and it was postponed. We have several restaurants in the city that wanted to start working with our products. They all closed down. You can say, okay, everyone’s drinking, but spirits aren’t what people are focusing on. They’re more into wine, sparkling wine, or beer, but not spirits.
What would you say to people to change their minds?
Our products need a lot of explanation. You can create a cocktail at home with just three ingredients. When people hear cordial, they think it’s this thick, overly-sweet syrup but our products are not that.
For example, our white peach is perfect for the summertime. If you go to the store and you buy one of the white peach cordials, it’s mostly peach-candy flavor, which is so different from ours. We use solely white peaches fresh from the farm that are nice, juicy, and soft. We steep them right away, and it makes a huge difference in the final product.
There are many possibilities for our products. If you drink spiked seltzer, for instance, you should instead have one of our liqueurs and mix it with sparkling water. There you have something truly delicious and natural.
We have so many people coming back to us which shows us that when they get to know it, they go with it.
What’s next for Heimat?
We are looking for a new space. Our production facility is super small, and we are using two different rooms for all of our bottles and packaging material. Maybe once we get back to normal, we can move to the new facility.
We’ll move and then our goal is to be open for visitors, to have tasting rooms, and to get our own still at one point.
Heimat is definitely made to bring my home here and give people the option to have something pure, natural, and delicious. And to experiment and not be afraid to change their minds. The cordial does not have to be sweet and syrupy; it can be truly delicious while everything is family-owned and handmade. We want to show that it’s possible.
Purchase Heimat products online at newyorkcraftspirits.com.