At a glance it would be all to easy to see New York Distilling Company’s two gin releases as simply part of the ongoing wave of new craft distilleries and yet another example of this surge in micro-made spirits. However, what they have made and what they are doing deserves much, much more attention.
In a 5,000 square-foot Williamsburg warehouse in Brooklyn (the corner of Lorimer and Richardson), sits the recently constructed New York Distilling Company HQ. The story has many starting points depending on who you talk to in the small team, the reasons as to why they ended up involved with the creation of two new gins is different. Amongst other things – Allen Katz was the former Slow Food USA chairman and a cocktail historian while Tom Potter launched Brooklyn Brewery. We won’t go into all the details, but suffice to say – these guys may be coming at it from different places and with different journeys – but they know their gin from their genever and are passionate to say the least…
The idea of setting up a distillery in Brooklyn is not as new as one might think. Some of the earliest distilleries in Brooklyn reputedly date back to the 1700′s. During Prohibition, there were supposedly ten’s of thousands illicit stills in New York City itself. However, while not wanting to take anything away from the team at Breukelen or Hudson – New York Distilling Company’s distillery has to be one of the most interesting we’ve come across in a long time. The distillery has a special farm distiller’s license from New York State that allows it to run a bar — granted because 100 percent of the grains used for its rye whiskey will come from New York farmers. This bar is called The Shanty, which we refer to on several occasions below…
The initial intention for the then 3 man New York Distilling Company team, was to create one gin but during the development, whilst the various recipes were being considered, the team decided that although different, there were two recipes they could develop further and decided to create two gins. They were not intended as a pair or as a contrast, merely as two great gins that both deserved to be made as they stood up to inspection and most importantly, in their eyes, both brought something new to the wider Gin category.
One of these gins was named Perry’s Tot, the first American Navy Strength Gin. The name Perry’s is after Matthew Calbraith Perry, who served as Commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard from 1841-43. There are nods at each stage to the heritage of the Navy Strength style, both in the name, design, content and flavour but all are done so in a modern, contemporary fashion. The 57% ABV comes from the historical proof % at which gunpowder could still be fired should it unfortunately be soaked by spilled spirit. Incidentally, at 57% ABV, it may seem to require Dutch Courage to even go near it, but this is not the case as the gin makes the most of the alcohol content tying in bold aromatic flavours rather than act as simple rocket fuel.
A tot was a recognised measure aboard vessels (about 70ml) and if you were to also try it neat, expect to pick up on a strong, juniper forward gin surrounded by warming spice (the warmth may well be accentuated by the high ABV). A few sips in and the more delicate citrus elements reveal themselves and so too does a lingering earthy note. A very well balanced, confident gin and one that should go on any gin lover’s must try list.
The botanicals used are relatively traditional, juniper, cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, lemon, orange and grapefruit peel, but there is one that jumps out as unusual – wild flower honey from upstate NYC. Allen Katz describes the use of the botanical as providing an earthy/floral note on the nose which once pointed out we felt could be discerned, if a little hard to separate distinctly from any of the others. It clearly adds something to the ensemble though, and we’ll take his word for it that Perry’s just wouldn’t be the same without it.
It’s good to see that the team really thought their concept through and continued the theme into the other elements of the gin too; the image of Perry on the inside of the bottle seems to us like a tribute to Plymouth’s original bottles with the monks on the side. No doubt the bottle’s designer Milton Glazer (a renowned name in the design industry) will have done so for many other reasons as well and whatever the rationale, it looks great. We enjoyed it in a G&T, but sticking with the Navy theme, recommend trying it in a Gimlet. It would make for a great Hot toddy gin too with the flavours from the spices easily accentuated with a bit of consideration.
As you can probably tell, the release of a Navy Strength is always going to get us gin geeks excited, but put that all aside and taste it blind, and you’re still left with a good spirit. Perhaps more niche and (again perhaps only for geeks only) an exciting discovery, was the ongoing experiments with Perry’s Tot in a small American Oak cask. It’s unlikely to ever be released but if you find yourself in The Shanty; get begging, as having now tasted over a dozen barrel aged experiments by various distillers, it’s the best barrel aged gin we’ve tried by quite a long way.
The wood had added some depth, brought out the star anise and other warming spices but without loosing sight on the Gin’s main driver, a clear juniper backbone. It’s great to see it now being mixed at the bar. (Leather Bound: Barrel-aged Perry’s Tot gin, Ramazotti, lime, Allspice Dram, Angostura bitters, served up)
The other gin, Dorothy Parker is billed as an American Gin, but not in the sense that it is trying to be a non-gin, different and on the edge of the category’s flavour map and therefore deserving of a different classification; it is merely named such as a way of stating the provenance. Named after the famous New York writer Dorothy Parker – a renowned gin soak – the gin reflects her unique biting humour and unconventionality.
“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.” – Dorothy Parker
Dorothy Parker Gin is juniper forward with floral notes surrounding it on the nose and on the palate, at which point it’s joined by more earthy elements. It may sound strange to say this given each gin on the market is supposed to be different to the one beside it, however there are usually familiarities between them. It’s often possible to say “a bit like xxxx but with a more citrus” for example. Dorothy Parker stands alone and we were impressed by this. It is by all accounts different. Familiar gin territory flavours with its punchy juniper but elderberries, dried hibiscus petals, cinnamon and citrus take it off in a delicate, floral direction. It’s not traditional but neither is it “New Western” or whatever term one likes to call modern takes on gin. It’s a modern gin, but not at the expense of the spirit’s heritage, both classic and contemporary in equal measure.
Putting it through its paces, Dorothy Parker works well in a G&T, refreshing and floral but not too delicate to be drowned out by the tonic. It’s a good gin for an Aviation and delicious in a Bees Knees too. If you see it on the back bar, give it a try.
It’s hard to see how New York Distilling Co won’t be a run away success. A quick look at the CV of the creators shows the know how to manage distilleries, serve great drinks and explain the reasons why they work, as well a long history that demonstrates a passion for the food and drink industry. These are all in evidence when you visit. Even with Hayman’s releasing a Navy Strength in the US soon, Perry’s Tot will receive the attention it deserves and we wouldn’t be surprised to hear of it gain traction in the on-trade. Dorothy Parker Gin is perfectly balanced to appeal to a modern gin loving American audience whilst not alienating those who like the flavours that classic gins demonstrate. In interviews, Allen Katz talks frequently about wanting to add something to the conversation and producing something that wasn’t out there on the market – and in our opinion they’ve achieved that and have interesting gins as a result.
They have managed to create two unique gins, a fantastic bar and are on the road to making other spirits including a Rye and potentially an Old Tom Gin. However, with craft distilling maintaining its appeal as more consumers search out for the stories behind products and want to know who and where it’s made – New York Distilling Co’s biggest asset is provenance and accessibility. Their commitment to use sustainably produced ingredients in all of their spirits and whenever possible to feature grains and other ingredients grown in New York State is admirable and goes a long way in demonstrating just how much provenance is important to them too. Just like the London based Sipsmith, it’s easy to walk on into the distillery, see what’s going on and talk to the team. However, if you do so at The Shanty, expect to be served a mean cocktail whilst you daydream of what might just be possible…
With their Christian Carl, 1000 ltr still now in action so frequently, the only thing left to do for the New York Distilling Company team is to give it a good nickname and keep up the good work!
For more information about New York Distilling Co, visit their website:
They are also on Twitter: @NYdistilling