Distilling Goes Downtown
Keep an eye on this new crop of urban, artisanal spirits producers.
The Willis brothers of Bully Boy Distillers
Woodstone Creek began winemaking in a barn about 45 minutes outside of Cincinnati, but Owner Don Outterson found the location yielded only seasonal traffic to his tasting room. A move to bustling Cincinnati made the winter months a big hit for locals seeking out Woodstone Creek’s Bourbon, vodka and peated single-malt whiskey.
New Orleans painter and sculptor James Michalopoulos began distilling rum in 1995 to take advantage of his home state’s prodigious sugar cane crop. Celebration Distillation’s Old New Orleans Rum is produced in a former cotton warehouse from the 1860s, using a column still that began its days in a French perfumery. Celebration Distillation’s spiced rum carries a Cajun kick that would make Food Network-star Emeril Lagasse proud.
Chicago-based husband-and-wife team Robert and Sonat Birnecker craft spirits inspired by Robert’s Austrian heritage at Koval Distillery. Their whiskey line includes single-grain spirits from unusual contenders like millet and oat (the latter makes an especially creamy spirit). Neighboring Metropolitan Brewery provides a lager that’s distilled into Koval’s Bierbrand, a traditional German spirit with an attractively hoppy nose.
Philadelphia Distilling Co-founder Robert John Cassell was working as the director of quality assurance at Victory Brewing when he began to suspect that small-batch spirits were going to become a big deal. He and two partners launched the distillery in 2005, and now produce Bluecoat American Dry Gin, XXX Shine White Whiskey, Penn 1681 Vodka and Vieux Carré Absinthe Supérieure, which boasts a veritable herb garden of aromatics and a strong anise finish.
Brothers Will and Dave Willis grew up making hard cider on their family farm outside Boston, and graduated to a stovetop still when they hit their 20s. Once deciding to go pro with Bully Boy Distillers, they set up shop in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. Bully Boy’s white rum starts clean and light, but finishes with a powerful hit of caramel. The brothers also make a white whiskey and vodka, and are currently barrel-aging dark rum and wheat whiskey for release in about a year.
Highball Distillery (Portland, Oregon): Portland’s Distillery Row, located in the city’s Lower Eastside Industrial District, is home to six small-batch producers, including Highball Distillery. Creating certified organic Elemental Vodka from ingredients grown on local farms, plus 20 additional spirits, including gin, rum, whiskey and aquavit, Highball uses stills powered solely by wind energy.
Breuckelen Distilling (Brooklyn, New York): When Brad Estabrooke lost his job in finance, he turned to a brand new career: distilling. His first product was a gin designed to highlight the flavor of American wheat and botanicals. Estabrooke followed up with a whiskey.
Dry Fly Distilling (Spokane, Washington): Founders Kent Fleischmann and Don Poffenroth were working in food marketing when they decided to take a leap of faith and open a distillery. The two, who met while fly fishing in Montana, decided to pay homage to their favorite sport by naming their distillery Dry Fly Distilling. They now distill whiskey, vodka and gin on the banks of the Spokane River, using grain from farmland that surrounds the city.
Brooklyn Winery (Brooklyn, New York): Founders John Stires and Brian Leventhal spent many evenings at a DIY winery in New Jersey before they endeavored to open Brooklyn Winery. Visitors of their winery and lounge can enjoy housemade wine on tap and order a variety of small bites, or learn to crush grapes and bottle their own vino. Click here to watch a behind-the-scenes video of Brooklyn Winery.
Louisville Distilling Company (Louisville, Kentucky): Louisville Distilling Company produces Angel’s Envy, the latest from Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson, who built his reputation crafting fine Bourbons like Woodford Reserve and Old Forester at Brown-Forman. Henderson’s newest spirit is a lusciously smooth whiskey that’s aged in Port barrels, which infuse it with remarkable depth of flavor. Angel’s Envy is produced under contract at a distillery elsewhere in Kentucky, but the company plans to begin distilling in downtown Louisville this year.