The New York Distilling Company in Williamsburg recently celebrated its second birthday. It was founded by Tom Potter, who also co-founded the Brooklyn Brewery, and Allen Katz, Director of the Spirits Education & Mixology for Southern Wine & Spirits of New York. The distillery was opened on the symbolic date of December 5, 2011—the anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition.
“In a way, we’re still suffering from Prohibition,” our guide Diane explained when we visited the distillery on Saturday. It wasn’t until 2002 that New York State lowered the price of a distilling license from $50,000 to $1,450, thanks in part to numerous appeals from Hudson Valley distiller Tuthilltown Spirits, which we visited previously.
At just two years old, NY Distilling is among the older distilleries in New York, along with Tuthilltown and Kings County Distillery in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. They primarily make gin, since it is less time consuming than whiskey, which by definition must age in wooden barrels for at least two years. Gin is a neutral spirit that derives its flavor from juniper berries.
As Diane explained, gin’s parent spirit genever was originally produced in the Netherlands in the 1600s. From there, it spread to England, where they anglicized the name and started calling it gin. English distillers sometimes added turpentine or other noxious ingredients along with the juniper berries. This gin was so unpalatable that they added sugar to it. London Dry gin was made without added sugar, and it was a point of pride for distillers that their gin was so good it didn’t need to be sweetened.
It was widespread in the Navy as well, and Navy Strength gin is 57% alcohol, or 114 proof. For navy purposes, the alcohol had to be strong enough that it was still flammable. They couldn’t have their men ruining their gunpowder if they spilled their gin!
NY Distilling makes American gin, which is a bit different from London and other European gins. American gins have other botanicals in them, and you can taste floral notes and elderberry notes in NY Distilling gin. “When people say they don’t like gin, I tell them they just haven’t found the right one,” Diane said, as there are many different varieties. NY Distilling makes three types of gin plus a pink gin with bitters in it that they only serve at their attached bar, The Shanty. They have a farm distillers license, which means they source most of their ingredients within New York state.
Perry’s Tot is their Navy Strength gin. It’s named after Matthew Calbraith Perry, who served as Commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard from 1841-43. Their Dorothy Parker American Gin is smooth and made for cocktails, with notes of juniper berries, elderberries, citrus, hibiscus and cinnamon. They named it for the witty American writer and critic, who—during Prohibition—said, “I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three I’m under the table. After four I’m under my host!”
Finally, they make a hybrid of gin and rye called the Chief Gowanus Gin. Back when New York was still Dutch, Chief Gowanus was the chief of the Native American Canarsee tribe. The Chief Gowanus gin is made with double-distilled rye whiskey, juniper berries and Cluster hops, distilled again and aged in an oak barrel for three months, which is where it gets its light amber color. NY Distilling is one of just a few microdistilleries that age their gin in barrels.
The New York Distilling Company serves their gins in a number of delicious cocktails at The Shanty, which has windows looking onto the distillery. We sampled a few of them and can attest that they are some of the best cocktails in the city. We especially loved the 700 Songs Gimlet, made with Perry’s Tot gin, lime, cinnamon and Bittermans Hellfire Shrub, served up, and the Ba-Zucca Joe, made with Perry’s Tot gin, Zucca rhurbarb amaro, Aperol and lemon, served over ice.
On Saturdays and Sundays, NY Distilling gives free tours and tastings in the distillery. Happy hour at the Shanty is 3-5 pm on the weekends and there’s live music at 4 pm. Their Perry’s Tot and Dorothy Parker gins are sold at liquor stores in Manhattan, Brooklyn and throughout New York State. See the full list here. They recently cracked open their first barrel of whiskey aged for two years, and they look forward to serving more of their whiskey and rye at the end of this year. USA Network’s hit show White Collar filmed an episode in the distillery and the bar.