In the late 19th century, Brooklyn was more or less a giant liquor distillery, with many of its neighborhoods home to producers of everything from brandy to whiskey.
That all changed with Prohibition: In 1920, the Volstead Act effectively shut down all of the state’s distilleries and wiped out the borough’s spirit makers. Over the past decade, however, Brooklyn has once again become the seat of a budding small-batch distilling industry, thanks to a handful of pioneering businesses that have set up shop everywhere from Greenpoint to the docklands of Red Hook. The booming business in Brooklyn complements the 30-odd distilleries scattered throughout New York State.
In this festive season, The Financialist gives a toast to Brooklyn’s best and brightest makers of gin, bourbon and other alcohols, while reminding our readers to enjoy in moderation.
Breuckelen Distilling: In 2010, Breuckelen began making gin and whiskey from grains grown in New York state. The brainchild of Brad Estabrooke, an erstwhile money manager, the distillery is situated in a renovated factory in Sunset Park. Every step of the distilling process happens on site, from milling whole grains to bottling. Currently, it yields two varieties of whiskey and a gin flavored with juniper, rosemary, ginger and grapefruit.
Cacao Prieto: Although it’s known for its chocolate products, this Red Hook company also makes two kinds of rum distilled from fermented cacao beans grown on its farm in the Dominican Republic. After distilling, the rums are aged in oak barrels. Cacao Prieto, which is owned by Daniel Prieto Preston, also makes a cacao liqueur and an unfiltered five-year-old Kentucky bourbon.
New York Distilling Company: Opened in 2011 by co-founders Tom and Bill Potter and Allen Katz, this Williamsburg gin distillery takes its Brooklyn roots seriously: Its Perry’s Tot bottle takes its name from Matthew Calbraith Perry, the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s 19th-century commandant. Appropriately, the 114-proof spirit is “Navy strength,” containing 57 percent alcohol by volume. Less explosive is the company’s 88-proof Dorothy Parker. Distilled with wildflower honey from upstate New York, its ingredients include grapefruit and star anise. As an added bonus, the distillery is one of a select few where you can drink on site, courtesy of its in-house bar, the Shanty.
Greenhook Ginsmiths: Founded by Steven DeAngelo, a Brooklyn native, Greenhook makes its gin by using a copper still with a mercury vacuum, which lowers the atmospheric pressure and allows the gin to be distilled at a lower pressure. In addition to his American dry gin, DeAngelo recently began distilling Beach Plum gin, an alternative to sloe gin made with the sloe berry’s American relative, the beach plum.
Industry City Distillery: This Sunset Park distillery started out as a science project. David Kyrejko, a biological engineer and ICD’s head distiller, was trying to make carbon dioxide for underwater ecosystems. The fermentation process yielded an alcoholic mash that could be used for distilling spirits, and ICD was born. The distillery, which is located on the top floor of a warehouse it shares with its parent company, the City Foundry, makes a single variety of sugar beet vodka called, appropriately, No. 2 Vodka.
Kings County Distillery: Located in the city’s oldest whiskey distillery, Kings County, founded by David Haskell and Colin Spoelman, became the city’s first operating whiskey facility since Prohibition when it opened in 2010. Its team of five distillers turns out small batches of moonshine and bourbon, using corn and barley grown on a lot next door to the distillery, which sits in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Photos courtesy of: Breuckelen Distilling, Cacao Prieto, New York Distilling Company, Greenhook Ginsmiths, Kings County Distillery