They say that when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade. Brad Estabrooke took that philosophy one step further and made... gin. This former bond trader took advantage of being laid off by pursuing his fantasy of opening a distillery in New York City. Breuckelen Distilling Company is part of a local urban distilling micro-trend, turning New York State grain into gin right in Sunset Park. Brad tells us about his spirited journey and what's next in store.
Name: Brad Estabrooke
Location: Sunset Park
Occupation: Founder, Breuckelen Distilling Company
Tell us a little about your journey from the world of finance to the world of spirits. A couple years ago my girlfriend, Liz, and I were having drinks and I was complaining about my job. We were asking ourselves, "What would be a more rewarding way to spend our time?" We came up with a theory that working with raw materials—and really creating something special out of them—would be really satisfying.
We weren't pinned on a particular craft, and we didn't think "Wow, alcohol is delicious, I wonder if we could make it for a living." It was a little more circuitous. I've long considered wine, but it seems to require a lot of money to get started. It wasn't until I read an article in a magazine where the author compared some recent law changes related to distilling to what happened with beer in the early 80's. This author was saying we are at the beginning of a micro-distilling boom. I hadn't considered distilling, I had never been to a distillery at that point, but I was smitten with the idea immediately.
How did you go about educating yourself about the skill and art of distilling? I started with the Internet (little to nothing available here), then the library—then started drinking a wider variety of spirits, visiting distilleries, then some classes put on by distilling equipment manufacturers. I worked with another distillery in Chicago, Koval, to get some important experience.
What has been the most challenging part of the process so far? It was hard to find people to help us get started in the beginning. For example, I really had a hard time with plumbers. I would get prices that were more than 4 times as high as what I eventually ended up spending. I would say that I'd been a bond trader and they would think "money to burn." Also, I would tell people I'm looking to open a distillery in New York, and they would say "It can't be done. If it could, there would be one already."
Where do you get your ingredients? My wheat comes from an organic farmer out of Newfield, NY. My botanicals are from around the world. I've been trying to find some local juniper berries to use, but so far I haven't found someone willing to cultivate them. I think as we get more established we'll have opportunities to source local botanicals too. I keep asking the rooftop gardeners in Brooklyn if they'll grow a grain which I could ferment to make a 100% grown and made in NYC batch of something—so far, no luck.
Where can Serious Eaters taste and buy Breuckelen Gin? We're in about 18 places right now, our website has a nice listing. Also our distillery has a tasting room, where people can taste and buy a bottle.
What's your favorite way to drink it? Neat. It's not a London dry gin so it drinks well neat. We distill the wheat a particular way, so as to retain some of the wheat character—sort of like a very clean whiskey distillation, which makes an alcohol that is nice neat. I also like it slightly chilled (I put in an ice cube for about 30 seconds and then remove it) with a twist of lemon.
What's next for Breuckelen Distilling Company? We're planning to start bottling the wheat spirit we make, before we add the botanicals, on its own—as a white whiskey. Also, we've got an idea for a gin with some winter flavors that I'm hoping to experiment with soon. As long as things are going well there will be other experiments, too.
What are your favorite NYC hangouts or places you might be considered a regular? As for bars, JakeWalk is one of my favorites. I think Dressler in Williamsburg has some great cocktails. Fort Defiance in Red Hook is a really interesting place, too.
Do you have any food/drink guilty pleasures that we might be shocked to learn about? I eat way too many boxes of Annie's mac and cheese. Pathetic, really.