When my friend Barney from Fragrant Moments told me about Breuckelen Gin, made in Brooklyn at the borough’s second distillery to open this year, I had to check it out for myself.
Like Kings County Distillery, which I covered in early October, Breuckelen’s existence is the result of new laws in New York making micro-distilleries legal (and slightly less of a nightmare as far as paperwork and taxes go). Kings County is the first distillery to open in New York City since prohibition halted Brooklyn’s long tradition of brewing and distilling, and they like to say that it makes them the oldest—they’ve been open since the summer.
Breuckelen is the second oldest, opening around the same time. The name comes from the old Dutch spelling of Brooklyn, and the company was started by Brad Estabrooke, a finance guy who, after he got laid off in the recession, decided to start making gin—his spirit of choice.
The Breuckelen Distillery, while small, is much larger than Kings County’s 350 sq. ft. Breuckelen is in an industrial neighborhood between the Gowanus Canal and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, sort of between Park Slope and Red Hook. It’s in the middle of a long block of warehouses in what used to be the boiler room for a complex of buildings.
It’s a very clean and airy space filled with the pleasant smell of fermenting wheat. During an informal tour, we learned about the whole process. Unlike some gin producers, our guide, Gino, explained, Breuckelen makes their own neutral spirits and then redistills with the botanicals essential for gin. They use wheat sourced from an organic farm in upstate New York and they only add five ingredients: juniper, ginger, grapefruit peel, lemon peel, and rosemary. That’s a good deal fewer than many gins on the market—Bombay uses eight and Bombay Sapphire uses ten.
They do everything on-site: first they take the wheat and grind it into flour, then they heat it up with water and enzymes to break it down. After that ferments to a sludge of beer-like alcohol, they distill it in the beautiful Ulrich Kothe copper column still. The result is a wheat spirit that our guide told us they plan to bottle soon as a moonshine-style white whiskey. But for the gin, they redistill it with the five botanicals. Our guide, Gino, told us they consider wheat the “sixth botanical” because of the distinct sweet flavor it give the gin. (The Huffington Post has a great video with Estabrook explaining the process.)
“Because unlike with wine or beer, there’s not that much out there—there is no Distilling for Dummies—and a lot of the information is inaccurate. Believe it or not, the most helpful books were written by bootleggers—Moonshine! by Matthew Rowley and Making Pure Corn Whiskey by Ian Smiley. After I had a decent understanding of the basics, I took some classes that were offered by manufacturing companies, including Kothe Distilling Technologies and Christian Carl, and I visited a few distilleries around the country.”
After the short tour, we went to the tasting room, which has a separate entrance (by law). Gino gave use three small tastes: room temperature, cold, and mixed with Q Tonic (another Brooklyn-based start-up). At room temperature, Breuckelen Gin is smooth, slightly sweet and citrusy with a subtle juniper flavor—much more subtle than a Tanqueray, or even Gordon’s. Not far from the juniper level of Plymouth, but with different botanicals coming out. Cold, Breuckelen’s savory ingredients are dulled and the citrus flavors dominate. It’s quite good. Mixed with Q Tonic, a fine tonic water sweetened with agave, it’s perfect. We bought a bottle (750 ml for $35).
Below is a short video the company produced to explain their process:
[UPDATE — 11-7-10] I tried making a couple of cocktails with Breuckelen Gin, and found the flavors difficult to mix easily. This was the same problem I had with Ransom’s Old Tom Gin: you can’t just substitute either of these gins for what you usually use in your favorite gin cocktails. The flavors are too strong, too unique.
I made a gin and tonic with Breuckelen Gin and Q Tonic at home and discovered that the ratio needs to be experimented with for a bit. Just measuring out two ounces of gin and then free-pouring tonic water left me with something I didn’t love. Adding lime helped, but not completely. When I made a Maiden’s Blush cocktail (gin, Cointreau, lemon juice and a little Grenadine), I noticed how strong the wheat liquor flavor is; it messes with the other flavors.
This is not as big a problem as I’m making it sound. I like that wheat flavor of Breuckelen Gin. It’s what makes it so good. But it means I (and the people who make Breuckelen) need to come up with some good recipes that use that flavor to its best advantage. In the meantime, drinking Breuckelen Gin straight is quite rewarding.