Brad Estabrooke opened Breuckelen Distilling in June 2009 after giving up a career as a bond trader. Several years later, his gin and whiskeys are known as some of the best in Brooklyn — and they’re sold around the country as well as internationally. We caught up with Estabrooke to learn more about the start of Breuckelen and what makes the products of his small-batch Sunset Park company special. We also wanted to know where the entrepreneur goes in the city to get a drink.
Why the career change?
I was a bond trader for about eight years. It was a miserable, thankless job. I kind of fell into it out of college but then realized it really wasn’t for me. My now wife — then girlfriend –and I were both fed up with our jobs, and we were thinking, what could we do that we would be more content with? We were inspired by other people we saw making things — and when I say making things, I mean making things entirely from scratch, using raw ingredients, and doing it independently, not as a part of a corporation or outsourcing a significant part of it. They were setting up shop and working long hard hours and making something special. And we thought, wow, who knows if you can pay the bills with that, but how great would you feel if you made something really delicious?
We started the distillery at a time when there weren’t any distilleries in New York. I was laid off from the job I hated. It took some time and eventually it came together and here we are.
How do your days as a bond trader and now as a distiller differ?
At my old job the days were long but nowhere near what they are now. I would sit at a desk in front of a computer screen and mentally tax myself but certainly not physically, and now there’s a lot of thinking that goes on, but the core of what happens here, the part that’s really amazing and interesting and rewarding, is transforming grains into spirits. It’s mentally and physically taxing.
What is distinct about your gin?
The most important thing is taste. I think that’s overlooked a lot, especially when people are talking about the different Brooklyn products. Everyone who is making stuff is doing a great job, which is what makes what’s going on in Brooklyn really great. We have genuine people making great stuff, but at the end of the day, our product tastes different than anyone else’s. It has certain characteristics to it that make it special.
We do every single step of the process here ourselves. So we bring in whole grain, we mill that into flour, then fermentation and distillation happens in-house. Everything that’s matured, we mature here. Everything we sell has come in the door as grain, and we’ve distilled it. We do it all, all the way down to bottling, waxing, distributing, and delivering. We also only use New York grains; we’re not buying grains out of state. We work with one farmer who makes almost everything we use.
Do you ever miss the old job?
You mean every week when I get my paycheck? [Laughs]. No, I was done with that job. This place is not without trying moments. It’s been one challenge after another challenge. Things get harder every year as different problems arise. But all that said, at the end of the day, this is ridiculously rewarding.
Tell me about your whiskey.
We started making a few different types of whiskey, but it’s a longer development cycle than the gin because it needs to age. We branded our first whiskeys 77, and that’s just one style that we’ve developed. We have three other whiskeys that have been sitting for a year and a half. The whiskey program is developing; it takes years to figure out if what you’ve got makes any sense, so it’s evolving. We also have glorious gin oaked, which is the gin rested in an oak barrel so it gets some of the wood flavor.
If you had to pick a favorite Brooklyn-made spirit what would it be (besides your own)?
That’s tough, but I’d say Kings County. I love everything that they’re doing. The bourbon is the best thing they’re making. It’s my favorite.
Where do you go in the city to get a drink?
Rye House. They make a cocktail with the glorious gin that’s awesome. Hunter’s in Brooklyn has a great cocktail list as well.
Get a taste of Breuckelen Distillery’s spirits at this year’s Holiday Spirits Tasting Event!