Founder Brad Estabrooke came up with the idea when he was disillusioned with his job as a Wall Street banker in December 2008. Drawing inspiration from friends who had started careers using their hands such as roasting coffee and chocolate, the 31-year-old began coming up with the blueprints for his Brooklyn distillery project in March 2009. He set to the task as though he was back at University.
“I felt like I was studying for a Ph.D. in distilling,” Estabrooke wrote in his blog on Details.com. “But I also had to come up with enough money to get the project off the ground. The original plan was to save some money while I worked and then open the distillery when I retired—clearly, that went to shit when I got laid off. So I used all my savings, aggressively pitched the idea to friends and family, and put enough money together to get things started. Everyone owns a little bit of the company—the furthest removed person is a friend of a guy I went to high school with.”
The two toughest tasks that Estabrooke faced was finding a location big enough to house his bespoke distillery and timing when to apply for his license to produce his own unique gin concoction.
“After I had secured funding, I looked for a space,” Estabrooke explained. “I wanted to be in Brooklyn because it has a great artisan community, and I wanted to be in an industrial area so there wouldn’t be any zoning issues; plus, I needed to have 16-foot ceilings for some of the equipment to fit. After two months I found a space I loved in the Sunset Park neighborhood. I wasn’t able to stay excited for long, though, because I needed to get state and federal licenses, which, as I soon learned, is a total nightmare. The federal government won’t accept your application until you are almost ready to open, and then it takes up to 90 days to get the permits.”
The distillery sources all its grains from a farmer in upstate New York, a combination of whole grains, wheat berries, corn and rye. To produce the gin Estabrooke starts by removing the bran, the outside of the grain, and the germ from inside. On top of this all the nutrients are taken away – which leaves only starch, that is then milled into flour by putting on average 300 pounds into a silver hopper in any one shift.
The milled flour is then mixed with hot water in fermentation tanks. Enzymes are then added that break the starch down into sugars at which point yeast is added for the mixture to ferment for three to four days.
After which Estabrooke explains, “I’m left with what is basically a crude beer of about 7-10% alcohol. This is where making gin differs from making beer. When I heat the crude beer in the still, the alcohol evaporates and rises through the column, while the water stays behind. The evaporated alcohol then starts to cool, and I collect it as a liquid as it comes off the still. That liquid has an alcohol content of roughly 90%. The final step is to steep the alcohol in botanicals, which will give the gin its flavor.”
Estabrooke’s attention to detail is key to his brand, nearly as important as everything being local – this really is the New Yorker’s gin. Even the label is designed by a fellow Brooklyn inhabitant, while he only chose a glass-blower from Pennsylvania because not one Brooklyn artisan used recyclable glass. The idea in the future is to produce a limited edition in partnership with a local glass-blower.