A few weeks ago, we put up a list of the top 10 breweries in NYC(-ish). But beers are not the only alcohol brewing in New York. The distilling world is also on the rise after a shift in New York distilling laws in 2002 when the passage of a law allowing farm distillery licenses helped begin to restore New York’s once vibrant distilling culture. From whiskey to grappa to regional specialties like sorel hibiscus liqueur, New York-produced spirits are becoming ever more diverse and refined. Here are the 10 best distilleries in NYC(-ish) right now.
10. Atsby Vermouth, 505 Greenwich Street
Ok, so this one’s a bit of a cheat, since vermouth is not distilled, it’s made from distilled products, wine, and aromatics. But Atsby’s two bright, unique bottlings–made with all New York grapes and brandies–still net the producer a deserved spot on this list. The Amberthorn vermouth is made with Long Island Sound Chardonnay steeped with Chinese anise, French lavender, and holy basil (along with several other botanicals), then blended with a small-batch apple brandy made by an upstate artisan distiller and a touch of raw summer honey. The Armadillo Cake vermouth also uses Long Island Sound Chardonnay, but this time, it’s infused with wild celery, nigella seeds, nutmeg, dark Indian Muscovado honey, and, oddly enough, shiitake mushrooms. The complex flavor combinations make these unique drinks, and 95 percent of the ingredients are produced or grown here in New York.
9. Jack from Brooklyn, 177 Dwight Street, Brooklyn
After almost washing away during Sandy, this Red Hook distillery is back on its feet with charismatic owner, Jackie Summers, leading the way. Jack from Brooklyn specializes in a Caribbean staple: sorel liqueur. Once used for its medicinal powers and aphrodisiac effects, Jack has modernized the traditional recipe, blending Brazilian clove, Indonesian cassia, Nigerian ginger, Indonesian nutmeg, Moroccan hibiscus, pure cane sugar, and 100 percent organic grain alcohol. Served hot as a holiday drink or cold as a summer refreshment, Jack’s sorel is a treat. (And check out an awesome list of recipe ideas online.)
8. Breuckelen Distilling Company, 77 19th Street, Brooklyn
Breuckelen Distilling Company began crafting gin and whiskey in summer 2010. Dedicated to distilling by hand, Breuckelen produces all spirits from scratch using organic New York grains, and the entire production–from milling to bottling–takes places in one room in Sunset Park. Rosemary, lemon, ginger, and grapefruit accompany the gin-staple juniper berries in the distillery’s Glorious Gin. Brueckelen also produce two whiskeys, one from wheat and another from rye and corn, both aged in American oak. The distillery is closed for tours until September, but check back in the fall to see when the doors are open.
7. Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery, 114 Little York Road, Warwick
Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery celebrates the relationship between fruit and alcohol in many different capacities, including port, wine, and cider. And now, in a shiny copper German-made still, the winery is producing a variety of fruit brandies and liqueurs, creating unique flavors and products through barrel-aging fermented fruits. Try the Warwick rustic gin, an aromatic spirit infused with botanicals, such as juniper berries, citrus peel, coriander, angelica root, and anise. Stop by for winery tours, apple-picking, and lunch at the café.
6. Long Island Spirits, 2182 Sound Avenue, Baiting Hollow
When we asked a local spirits vendor what his favorite New York-made spirit was, he immediately said Long Island Spirit’s LiV Vodka, which is made with Long Island potatoes. Turns out, Long Island devoted over 200,000 acres to potato farms until the 1940s; Long Island Spirits decided to infuse that history into a spirit and created one of the best local vodkas available. The producer also turns out LiV espresso vodka, a long list of sorbetta liqueurs, American malt whiskey, straight bourbon, and three-barrel rye whiskies. Check out the vodka and barrel-aged tastings at the distillery.
5. Greenhook Ginsmiths, 208 Dupont Street, Brooklyn
Steven DeAngelo learned the art of gin-making after his job on Wall Street proved unfulfilling. After a brief distilling course, he became inspired by old French perfume vacuum distillation, a process that protects delicate flowers while extracting significant flavor and oils. He decided to use that method with his gin, infusing the alcohol with aromas often hampered by the extreme heat of the distilling process. The result is a smooth, aromatic gin that is fine enough to drink straight–even if you don’t love gin. If you’re in the mood for something sweet, Greenhook also offers a unique spin on the British sloe gin staple: Beach Plum Gin, a syrupy dessert spirit reminiscent of fortified wine. Be on the lookout for the Greenhook Ginsmiths tasting room, which opens in the coming months. (And keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming In The Spirit episode at this spot.)
4. Van Brundt Stillhouse, 6 Bay Street First Floor, Brooklyn
Utilizing sun-dried sugars grown on small family farms, Van Brundt’s debut spirit, Due North rum, garnered the distillery ample attention after its 2012 opening. Most recently, the proprietors at Van Brundt Stillhouse have been playing with grappa, the traditional European spirit made with wine. The owners paired up with local Brooklyn wineries–such as Lieb Cellars, Brooklyn Winery, and Red Hook Winery–to create the grape-based brandy, even making a limited-edition aged grappa, now available at Dry Dock in Red Hook. Van Brundt also distills American whiskey and a soon-to-be-released malt whiskey. You can schedule group and individual tours of the space online.
3. New York Distilling Company, 79 Richardson Street, Brooklyn
New York Distilling Company was created by Tom Potter–co-founder of Brooklyn Brewery–and Allen Katz, a former chairman of Slow Food U.S.A. and current director of spirits education and mixology for Southern Wine and Spirits of New York. Add to those impressive résumés their commitment to using sustainably produced and local ingredients for their spirits, and you have an immediate recipe for success. Currently producing two great gins–Perry’s Tot Navy Strength gin and the Dorothy Parker American gin–this distillery is also in the process of aging its first batch of rye whiskey, and it’s determined to stick to the large-barrel method. Drop by the spot’s bar, The Shanty, for a dram or a weekend tour.
2. Catskill Distilling Company, 2037 State Route 17B, Bethel
Catskill Distilling Company just keeps raking in awards for its Most Righteous bourbon, Peace vodka, Curious gin, grappa, and buckwheat spirit. A farm distillery located in Sullivan County–a stone’s throw away from the grounds of the Woodstock Music Festival–owner and distiller Dr. Monte Sachs continues to put his heart and soul into making these fine New York spirits, an art he learned in Italy. The distillery is open for tours and you can chill at the bar next door, Dancing Cat Saloon, for more tastes and local brews.
1. Tuthilltown Spirits, 14 Grist Mill Lane, Gardiner
Tuthilltown Spirits released its first batch of vodka in 2003, operating out of a 220-year old gristmill in Gardiner, New York. Several years later, the distillery has numerous awards under its belt and a vastly expanded repertoire. Cassis liqueur, bitters, several types of whiskey, rum, vodka, and gin are all made on the premises, and the whiskeys are nationally recognized as some of the best on the market. The spirit makers utilize the surrounding farming community: The vodka is made from Hudson Valley apples picked from trees five miles down the road; the corn for the whiskey is picked just a few more miles away. Stop by for a tour and tasting of this farm-to-bottle operation.
Honorable mentions go to Kings County Distillery and Cacao Prieto.