From hard spirits to soda pop, from rieslings to lagers, New York is awash in locally made beverages. Drink up! They're literally the toast of the town.
Milwaukee makes Beer. Kentucky is known for bourbon. The Napa Valley produces wine. And New York City is famous for … all three. Well, maybe not famous, yet. But all over town, breweries, distilleries, wineries and even soda-pop makers are thriving and expanding, due to the popularity of locovore dining, craft cocktails, friendly legislation and the lofty dreams of small business people. By the time you read this, another small producer (or three) has probably launched.
STILL LIFES Makers of spirits have a long history in New York, claims Allen Katz, co-founder of New York Distilling Company. The city’s—and perhaps the country’s—first distillery (of applejack, possibly) opened in 1640 on what is now Staten Island. Katz’s two-year-old operation is nestled in a warehouse in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, adjacent to its bar The Shanty (79 Richardson St., 718.878.3579), a place with low, sexy lighting, dark wood and brick walls. Turn around and admire the gleaming twin-column stills and dual fermentation tanks in the next room, churning out what will become Dorothy Parker American Gin (floral and aromatic) and Perry’s Tot Navy Strength Gin (spicy and bracing, at 57 proof); tours on weekend afternoons provide a closer look. The distillery’s gins are available at around 375 bars and restaurants around town, according to Katz, served neat or in artisanal cocktails such as those crafted at Death & Co. (433 E. 6th St., 212.388.0882), a shrouded but friendly speakeasy-style East Village haunt.
While New York Distilling plays the gin game, Kings County Distillery specializes in brown spirits. The three-year-old distillery moved last year into new digs at the Brooklyn Navy Yard (63 Flushing Ave., Bldg. 121, kingscountydistillery.com). Visitors are welcome (no reservations needed) every Saturday to the 114-year-old former Paymaster Building to tour the 7,200-square-foot facility, which ends at the Boozeum tasting room for samples of the distillery’s signature unaged corn liquor (a.k.a. moonshine), bourbon and brand-new chocolate-flavored whiskey, incorporating ground chocolate “husks” from Brooklyn’s Mast Brothers Chocolate factory. You’ll find Kings County’s bourbon and moonshine at The Modern (9 W. 53rd St., 212.333.1220) and whiskey mecca Ward III (111 Reade St., 212.240.9194).
Although it conjures up images of Caribbean islands, “rum was really a Northeast spirit first,” insists Bridget Firtle, a hedge-fund analyst turned distiller—and indeed, historians have found evidence of 16 New York City-area rum-makers in the 1720s. Their spiritual descendent is Firtle’s The Noble Experiment (23 Meadow St., East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, email@example.com) that gives tours of its brick-walled space, with its gleaming copper column stills, and tastings on Saturdays. Despite having launched only in the past few months, The Noble Experiment’s first product, Owney’s Rum, has already landed behind the bar at The Rum House (228 W. 47th St., 646.490.5545) and stylish locovore brasserie Alison Eighteen (15 W. 18th St., 212.366.1818), where it stars in the Knickerbocker cocktail, along with dry curaçao, raspberries and lime.
SUDSY SAGAS According to a recent New-York Historical Society Museum & Library exhibit, New York once boasted 48 breweries—a number that dropped to near zero with the advent of Prohibition, and stayed that way for over 50 years. Now, though, the beer-making scene is hopping. Best known is Brooklyn Brewery (79 N. 11th St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 718. 486.7422), at age 25 the oldest of the new breed. It offers tours every day but Friday, when it hosts a happy hour, featuring up to eight of its draft beers, bottled brews and a fresh cask of ale. At the other end of the city, and the age spectrum, is the year-and-a-half-old Bronx Brewery. Already reputed for its pale ales, it also pushes the flavor envelope with custom casks, such as ones for Monument Lane (103 Greenwich Ave., 212.255.0155) spiced with green, red and black peppercorns or blood oranges.
Then there are brewpubs, which sell their own crafted suds. Heartland has seven locations around the city, offering up its beers with steaks, burgers and other pub grub. 508 GastroBrewery (508 Greenwich St., 212.219.2444), marries the rustic Mediterranean-American dishes of Chef/owner Jennifer Hill with an in-house program crafted by brewer Chris Cuzme. The warm room, with its communal tables, mottled walls and ubiquitous candles, encourages conversation over a Saxual Healing Imperial Stout, Hamber Smoked Amber Ale or Beauty Booty Blonde Ale.
Other restaurants and bars make a point of specializing in New York City brews. Newcomer Houston Hall (222 W. Houston St., 212.675.9323), located in a 112-year-old garage turned rustic beer hall, offers 10 exclusive beers on tap from Greenpoint Brew Works, a craft brewery in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, to accompany its grilled sandwiches and wontons. DBGB Kitchen and Bar (299 Bowery, 212.933.5300), a saloon/bistro owned by celebrated chef/restaurateur Daniel Boulud, specializes in handmade sausages and burgers—cuisine ideal for pairing with its many local brews, such as Sixpoints’ Crisp Lager or Bengali Tiger IPA, Bronx Brewery’s malty Pale Ale or Brooklyn Brewery’s dark and complex Black Ops Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout.
\WINE TIME Wine production has less of a presence in New York than spirits or beer—where do you plant the vines?—but it’s a growing phenomenon. While it may seem odd that NYC-based producers call themselves “wineries” when they don’t actually grow grapes, Craig Kayaian at Brooklyn Oenology Winery, or BOE (209 Wythe Ave., Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 718.599.1259) is quick to point out that France has a long history of vineyard-free wineries crafting quality products. “Our founder/winemaker, Alie Shaper, selects specific growing partners, specific lines and vines to work with,” says Kayaian. Blending grapes from Long Island’s North Fork and the Finger Lakes, Shaper tries to capture the essence of New York in her varietals, which are sold in more than 150 stores and restaurants around town (and beyond). They’re also available at BOE’s cozy Tasting Room and Gallery, already a neighborhood gathering place for its celebration of all things local: spirits, foodstuffs and artwork.
One might not think of the once rough-and-tumble Red Hook neighborhood as a site for crushing, blending and aging grapes, but that’s exactly what Red Hook Winery (Pier 41, 325A, 175-204 Van Dyke St., Brooklyn, 347.689.2432) has been doing since 2008. Its space feels equal parts Tuscan wine villa and NYC industrial chic, and daily tastings of its 70-odd rieslings, Chardonnays and merlots occur with an open-air view of the harbor.
Most recently, fortified wines have appeared on the local scene. Uncouth Vermouth (produced in a corner of Red Hook Winery) offers up limited batches in flavors such as pear ginger and Serrano chile lavender, used to spark cocktails at Rouge Tomate (10 E. 60th St., 646.237.8977) or the new Hollywood-glam Harlow (Lombardy Hotel, 111 E 56th St., 212.935.6600).
TINY BUBBLES Teetotalers need not fret. New York is also the home to several artisanal soda producers, many pushing the boundaries of known flavors or reviving old-school recipes. GuS (Grown-Up Soda), a Manhattan-based label, focuses on full-flavored, not-overly-sweet beverages made with real juices and natural extracts. Its Dry Root Beer, Dry Pomegranate and Star Ruby Grapefruit drinks are found at gourmet groceries throughout the city, including Whole Foods Market (Time Warner Center, 10 Columbus Circle, 212.823.9600). Brooklyn’s P&H Soda Company specializes in handcrafted syrups in flavors such as cream, ginger, grapefruit and hibiscus, made from whole ingredients and carbonated on-site or in bars and restaurants. Their old-fashioned bottles add to the ambience at retro delis like Zucker’s Bagels & Smoked Fish (370 Lexington Ave., 212.661.1080). Restaurants devoted to local foodstuffs also often create their own drinks; one such is Rosemary’s (18 Greenwich Ave., 212.647.1818), where homemade pastas adorned with homegrown herbs can be washed down with fresh rosemary syrup-infused lemonade.
“Producing locally, despite high costs, ties into the same reason that New York City is the epicenter for a lot of things,” says Tobin Ludwig, co-founder of Brooklyn-based Hella Bitter, whose wares flavor cocktails at chic eateries such as The Red Cat (227 10th Ave., 212.242.0199). “There’s a demand for everything here, no matter the niche.”