Compared to beer and wine-making, distillation is a violent process. Where the former substances gently bubble away under fermentation’s yeasty ministrations, distillates like whiskey, gin, rum, and tequila, result from the hellish boiling of already-fermented liquids and the subsequent condensation of highly concentrated vapors.
According to Colin Spoelman, founding owner of Kings County Distillery, Staten Island was the home to America’s first distillery, a nameless entity the nature of whose output is similarly lost in time. Prohibition decimated Brooklyn’s already crippled distilling industry, which would only see its revival in the early 21st Century. Spoelman’s business was the first commercial distillery to open in Brooklyn since Prohibition.
Today, Brooklyn is again a thriving hive of distillate vice, and true to its reputation for creative idiosyncrasies, there’s much more in the offing than just whiskey, especially in Bushwick.
Moto Spirits Distillery
So many of this list’s constituents carry with them compelling backstories of pluck and luck and old-fashioned Yankee grit and perseverance—Moto Spirits’ founding story fits right in. However, the folks behind this small operation get extra points for a very Brooklyn brand of idiosyncrasy.
First of all, the enterprise was inspired by motorcycle journeys in Croatia and Vietnam. Second, they primarily produce just two tipples: rice whisky (inspired by a trip to the latter country) and a Croatian liquor called Jabuka, which is distilled from apples. Both come in unaged and aged iterations…and that’s it! Despite, or maybe because of, the microscopic and somewhat esoteric nature of their product line, they seem to enjoy a thriving distribution around Brooklyn and Manhattan, and frequently turn up in publications as diverse as GQ, Whiskey Advocate and Timeout.
99 Forrest St., Bushwick
Hours: Tuesday and Thursday, 10 am – 5 pm; closed to the public all other days.
Taking specialization in extremes, the self-described “nerds” at Arcane Distilling bring all kinds of crazy science to bear on a very compact liquor program. There’s a Fernet-style amaro (a herbacious bitter liquor most often hailing from Italy) and two lines of whiskeys: Lone Wolf and The Arcane, distilled from craft beer sourced from surrounding breweries. The novelty is almost unbearable.
942 Grand St
Hours: Tuesday to Friday, 5 pm – 11 pm; Saturday, 11 am – 11 pm; Sunday and Monday, closed
The Noble Experiment NYC
Occupying, by its lonesome, another tiny liquor industry niche is this North Bushwick/East Williamsburg enterprise, started in 2012 by a then-hedge fund manager by the name of Bridget Firtle. Its only commercially available substance is a line of rums called Owney’s, which makes Firtle’s the sole rum-only distillery in New York City.
Named after a legendary New York Prohibition-era bootlegger, it comes in three styles: Owney’s Original, which is a dry, un-aged white rum distilled from molasses; Owney’s Blend, which mixed the former with aged Dominican sugar cane rum; and Owney’s Overproof, which at 65% ABV is better kept well away from the lips of the callow and brash.
23 Meadow St.
Hours: Open 3 pm – 6 pm; closed to the public all other days.
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