Just five years ago, there was no such thing as Brooklyn-made liquor (at least not legally—we can’t speak to what people do in their own bathtubs). But much-welcome changes in prohibition-era laws have opened the doors for local craft distillers, and it turned out the doors were more like floodgates. With a dozen Brooklyn distilleries now in operation, stretching from Red Hook to Greenpoint, we decided that is was time to test them out. Brooklyn Based assembled a willing team of tasters and tried all of the Brooklyn-made liquors currently on the market (tough job, but someone’s gotta do it).
Our group of 20 thirsty Brooklynites sampled each booze straight up, on ice and with fancy-pants cocktail mixers (like Morris Kitchen‘s Brooklyn-made ginger syrup), and voted then voted for winners in each category. After much well-lubricated debate, we’re ready to name our favorites.
Winner: Greenhook Ginsmiths’ American Dry
With six different varieties of Brooklyn-made gin now on the market, this was the hardest category to declare a winner. In the end, we had to give it to this Greenpoint-based distillery’s flagship product, which is less a drink for gin purists than for adventurous foodies. Elderflower, chamomile and cinnamon accompany the traditional juniper berries, creating a full-flavored, exciting gin that is one of the best bases around for summertime cocktails.
Where to Drink It: Marlow and Sons mixes American Dry with Chartreuse and house-made lime bitters for a Green Medina. Or, make one of Greenhook’s cocktails at home.
Winner: Kings County Distillery’s Bourbon
This was another close call—with several tasters voting for Breuckelen Distilling’s intensely oak-y 77 Rye and Corn Whiskey—but the overall crowdpleaser was this highly-drinkable entry from Kings County. Made from New York corn and Scottish barley, this aromatic barrel-aged bourbon plays well with cocktails, but is also smooth enough to drink on its own.
Where to Drink It: Head to Kings County’s new Navy Yard Distillery on Saturdays, when you can tour the facility—including their new on-site corn field!—$8 gets you a tour, plus tastes of their bourbon, moonshine and chocolate whiskey.
Best Straight Drink
Winner: Industry City Distillery‘s No. 2 Vodka
No, really—the most drinkable booze of the bunch is a vodka. But not just any vodka. The young team of mad geniuses behind this new distillery in Sunset Park’s Industry City complex decided to try their hands at making vodka not because they like drinking it, but because it’s the most challenging spirit to manufacture. They utilize fractional distilling, a technique more commonly found in science labs than drink-making facilities, to chemically separate each element that goes into their booze, giving them maximum control over the final product, a super-smooth sugar beet vodka that doesn’t need to be hidden by mixers at all.
Where to Drink It: Try a shot—but drink it slowly!—at Sycamore Bar and Flowershop in Ditmas Park.
Best Cocktail Mixer
Winner: Cacao Prieto’s Don Estaban Cacao Liqueur
This new Red Hook facility makes both chocolate and booze, and, most notably, chocolate liqueur. Crafted from single-origin Dominican Republic cacao, this unique spirit tastes like a glass of rum infused with dark chocolate. We found it a bit too sweet to drink on its own, but just a few drops of the stuff added to whiskey (Kings County Bourbon perhaps?) is perfection.
Where to Drink It: Clover Club on Smith Street carries Cacao Prieto—ask one of their knowledgeable bartenders to mix it into something from their julep menu.
Best to Fill a Flask With
Winner: New York Distilling Company’s Perry’s Tot Navy Strength Gin
While this Williamsburg newcomer’s Dorothy Parker American Gin makes for an excellent G&T, if you’re more interested in bang-for-your-buck you’ll want Perry’s Tot. Made in the traditional 19th-century “Navy Strength” style—at a high enough ABV level that gunships could supposedly still fire if their powder accidentally got soaked in booze—this version clocks in at an impressive 114 proof. Just a few swigs should have you set for the night. And, for such a strong spirit, it’s surprisingly tasty, too.
Where to Drink It: The Shanty, adjacent to the distillery, serves it straight, mixed with Q Tonic, or with prosecco and Fernet Branca in a summer-y drink called Cannibal Corpse Reviver No. 2.
Winner: Jack from Brooklyn’s Sorel
Brooklynite Jackie Summers has long made his take on this hibiscus-based liqueur that is found on many Caribbean islands as a present for friends, and recently started producing it for the rest of us from his new base in Red Hook. We’re glad he did–accented with ginger, nutmeg, cloves and cassia, this deep red drink is light enough to sip in summer, but absolutely begs to be thrown into some egg nog come winter.
Where to Drink It: Huckleberry Bar in Williamsburg mixes it with Brooklyn Gin and lemon juice in a God Save the Queen.
And we’re Most Excited About…New York Distilling Company’s next effort, set to be released sometime in 2013, will be Rock & Rye—a young rye whiskey tempered with rock candy sugar and New York state sour cherries. Sounds like a Manhattan gone Brooklyn.