Hometown hooch

Three local distilleries take root in Brooklyn.

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Breuckelen Distilling

Breuckelen Distilling Photograph: Keith Morrison

Brooklyn isn't short on local libations. First it was lager and ale from the Brooklyn Brewery, Sixpoint and Kelso. Just last year, the Red Hook Winery uncorked its first vintage. Now, thanks to recently relaxed liquor laws allowing New York State distillers to sell directly to consumers, handcrafted hard stuff has entered the mix via three small-batch outfits opening across Kings County.

Brooklyn isn't short on local libations. First it was lager and ale from the Brooklyn Brewery, Sixpoint and Kelso. Just last year, the Red Hook Winery uncorked its first vintage. Now, thanks to recently relaxed liquor laws allowing New York State distillers to sell directly to consumers, handcrafted hard stuff has entered the mix via three small-batch outfits opening across Kings County.

Recovering Wall Streeter turned artisan-booze-maker Brad Estabrooke founded Breuckelen Distilling (77 19th St at Third Ave, Sunset Park, Brooklyn; 347-725-4985) in a bare-bones space—a former boiler room—in August 2009. Along with girlfriend Liz O'Connell, he installed a gorgeous, custom-made copper still from Germany and started experimenting with gin. "We wanted to make alcohol from local ingredients and sell it right away," says Estabrooke. "We didn't have the money to sit around while casks of whiskey age." His product—distilled from upstate grain and infused with botanicals such as juniper, grapefruit peel, ginger and rosemary—is rich, balanced and slightly sweet. It's as good with a splash of fizzy tonic as it is straight with a lemon twist. Find it at Thirst Wine Merchants (187 DeKalb Ave between Carlton Ave and Cumberland St, Fort Greene, Brooklyn; 718-596-7643; $35 for a 750ml bottle) or visit the distillery for a free tour (Sat, Sun 1--5pm) or tasting (Thu, Fri 2--8pm; Sat, Sun noon--6pm).

Joining Breuckelen is the scrappier Kings County Distillery (35 Meadow St at Bogart St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; no phone), which operates out of a cramped Williamsburg loft. Cofounders David Haskell and Colin Spoelman—who, ironically, grew up in a dry county in Kentucky—make do with five eight-gallon stills they bought online. The pair's first release is a fiery yet smooth un-aged corn whiskey—what Jed Clampett might call white lightning. Score a 200-millileter bottle for $20 at Astor Wines & Spirits (399 Lafayette St at 4th St, 212-674-7500) and drink it straight or with a single ice cube. Those who prefer to sip something more refined will have to wait—Kings County is also barrel-aging a bourbon, but it won't be available until early 2011.

By that time, they'll have even more competition. Later this year, Brooklyn Brewery cofounder Tom Potter and spirits guru Allen Katz plan to open the New York Distilling Co. (405 Leonard St at Bayard St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-369-3749) in what amounts to a rusty metal box near McCarren Park—the pair endearingly call it "The Shanty." A 1,000-liter handmade copper still will be shipped from Germany as soon as the space is ready, and they plan to have gin available by year's end and a rye soon after. A tasting room is also in the works.

Brooklyn locavores have been hard at work tilling rooftop farms and brewing kombucha at home for years. Now, for the first time since Prohibition, they can kick back with a borough-born dram at the end of the day, too.

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