Hospitality Professionals Turn to Production Amid New York Distilling Revival


Patrick Miller, the owner of Faccia Brutto, a Brooklyn-based maker of amaros and other liqueurs, brings a culinary sensibility to distillation.

“As cooks, we understand that consistency is most important,” says Miller, previously chef / owner of Rucola Restaurant in Brooklyn. This is a notable difference from distillers that display the individuality of mono-barrel or mono-batch spirits.

He also seasons his spirits like a chef.

“There is a small amount of salt in each batch to bring out the flavors,” he says. “It’s something I learned while cooking. This makes it more interesting and complex.

Miller is one of the many New York distillers of whiskey, amaro, vermouth and other spirits from the bar and restaurant industry. Almost 20 years after legislation revolutionized the way people can distill and sell spirits in New York State, the city is teeming with bottles from practitioners from all corners of the hospitality industry.

The range of amaros and other liqueurs of Faccia Brutto / Photo courtesy of Faccia Brutto Spirits

Evolution

At one time, New York State was home to hundreds of distilleries. After Prohibition, however, there were no more until 2003, when Ralph Erenzo founded Tuthilltown Distillery in the Hudson Valley (the distillery was bought by William Grant in 2017).

Erenzo’s work led to legislative changes that ultimately became the Farm Distillery Act of 2007, the law that set in motion the revival of craft distillation in New York State.

In 2014, the Craft New York Act further relaxed the regulations. New York’s agricultural distilleries, defined as those that contain at least 75% agricultural raw materials grown in New York, could hold tastings and serve drinks by the glass. This paved the way for distilleries to open cocktail bars that employed bartenders and served as community centers.

These operations exploded. By the end of 2016, the number of agricultural distilleries had nearly doubled to 107, according to figures from the New York State Governor’s Office. By 2020, the number of craft distilleries, including but not limited to agricultural distilleries, across the state has grown to 178, according to the American Craft Spirits Association.

Cory Fitzsimmons, Founder of Method Spirits, hosting an in-store tasting at Sussex Wine and Spirits in Manhattan / Photo by Eilish Morris
Cory Fitzsimmons, Founder of Method Spirits, hosting an in-store tasting at Sussex Wine and Spirits in Manhattan / Photo by Eilish Morris

“How we drink and what we drink”

What the numbers don’t show is who makes these ascendant New York spirits.

Cory Fitzsimmons and Jess McGlinchey, co-founders of Vermouth Method, started making vermouth while working behind the bar at New York’s Union Square Café.

“We started by making dyes in the basement, our own program of bitters, amaros,” says Fitzsimmons. “We started by vacuuming everything in the basement of a restaurant.

In turn, this informed what became a commercial product, a vermouth made from wine and brandy produced in New York’s Finger Lakes region.

“Our goal was to get closer to what the cuisine was known for, using local ingredients, sourcing from local breweries and distilleries,” says Fitzsimmons.

Cory Fitzsimmons mixing the plants used to make the Vermouth Method at Swedish Hill Winery / Photo by Jessica McGlinchey
Cory Fitzsimmons mixing the plants used to make the Vermouth Method at Swedish Hill Winery / Photo by Jessica McGlinchey

While there were a handful of New York-made vermouths, they were often too experimental or esoteric to give familiar results in the classic cocktails that Union Square Café tended to serve.

“Our challenge was to make something familiar,” he says.

At the end of 2018, Fitzsimmons and McGlinchey left the restaurant and, in 2020, launched a sweet Turin-style vermouth. A dry vermouth is currently in preparation.

Manhattan Whiskey-Maker Distillation Team Great Jones Distilling Co., which opened on August 18, also includes a hospitality pro. In addition to Chief Distiller Celina Perez, who has moved from the “sister distillery” to the Black Dirt Distillery further upstate, Assistant Distillery Jelani Johnson is in good faith as a bartender at Gage & Tollner and Clover Club.

Exterior facade of the Great Jones Distilling building
Great Jones Distilling Exterior Front / Photo courtesy of Great Jones Distilling Co.

Look ahead

As more distillery professionals come to New York City bars and restaurants instead of corporate suites, it is diversifying the New York City beverage landscape.

“Every time there is more diversity, you get more perspectives and a broader perspective on the approach,” says Fitzsimmons. “You get more complexity in the samples. You will get a better result. It’s diversity of all kinds – the context, the life experience, everything.

About Michael Brafford

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