Distilleries in NYC: Taste the Secrets of the Roaring ’20s

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Great Jones Distillery distilleries
A dismantled Vendome still becomes a sculpture at the Great Jones Distilling Co. entrance. Courtesy of The Great Jones Distilling Company.

Touring Delicious Distilleries from Manhattan to Brooklyn

By Chelsea Staub

distilleries
Colin Spoelman (left) is the co-founder, owner, and distiller of Kings County Distillery in Brooklyn, New York.

Just over 100 years ago, alcohol was banned in New York City. Now, The Great Jones Distilling Co. has become the first whiskey distillery to open its Art Deco-inspired revolving doors in Manhattan in a century.

On 686 Broadway Street, you will find cast-iron architecture with windows of warm lighting welcoming you in from of the cool streets of New York City.

You’ll know you’re in the right place when you enter the wood-paneled lobby and spot the dismantled, copper Vendome still.

The Craft of Whiskey

All whiskey at The Great Jones Distilling Co. is distilled in-house, in the NoHo district of Manhattan. Made from corn, malted barley, rye, and wheat, the distillery sources their grain from the Black Dirt region of Warwick, NY, where “the air, climate, and soil impart a distinctive flavor profile on the ingredients.”

Each is aged in American Oak barrels for four years and crafted in small batches. Three different whiskeys are available for purchase and tasting: straight bourbon, four grain bourbon, and rye.

Tours and Tasting at the Distilleries 

The Great Jones Distilling Co. expands over four floors, housing the distillery, a speakeasy, a penthouse lounge, a restaurant, and a gift shop.

Starting at $35, you can explore the distillery with the Distilling New York guided tour for one hour. This tour will teach you all about the distillery’s intricate process in making their signature whiskey. Enjoy a sampling of whiskey with fresh bites from local stewards on the Bourbon and Bites distillery tour for $60.

Tasting Room at the Great Jones Distilling Co., distilleries in New York City
The Tasting Room on the second floor offers a view overlooking west Broadway.

Other experiences include the Canapés and Cocktails, a curated six-course whiskey, and culinary pairing for two hours and $145.

Interested in learning to craft a decadent cocktail? Participate in The Shake Up, an interactive, two-hour cocktail class lead by one of the distillery’s head mixologists for $110. Reserve your desired experience online.

Secret Venues in the Speakeasy and Penthouse Lounge

If you decide on a sampling of whiskeys, take the cocktail class, or are lucky enough to be “in the know,” you may end up in the distillery’s speakeasy. Below street level, in a possible Prohibition-era rum runner’s tunnel, a secret tasting room awaits.

Red plush leather seats, small tables, and a bar fill the speakeasy’s 420 square foot space, allowing for a cozy cocktail party. The speakeasy can be reserved as a venue, allowing you to relish and enjoy a variety of cocktails with accompanying culinary courses for you and your party.

The Penthouse Lounge, also available as a venue space, offers an intimate room with a privately serviced bar, library, and projector screen. This room with a view is perfect for business meetings or private events.

Take a Seat at The Great Jones Distilling Co.

Great Jones Distilling The Lounge, New York City distilleries
Looking to host a private event? Look no further than the Penthouse Lounge at the Great Jones Distilling Co. in Manhattan.

After enjoying the tour, take a seat and dine on a culinary treat at The Grid, the distillery’s restaurant which opens next month on October 14.

Appetizing entrees include a Prime Bavette Steak Frites with Great Jones Four Grain and Green Peppercorn sauce or Tataki Grilled Cornish Hen with Great Jones Rye Habanero Hot Sauce and rye berries.

Save room for dessert to enjoy the Great Jones Rye Baked Alaska with salted peanut butter and caramelized banana, or try Mama’s Apple Cobbler with Black Dirt Apple Jack, brown butter oat streusel, and Crème Fraiche ice cream.

While waiting for The Grid to open, you can enjoy all-day dining, cocktails, and a view overlooking west Broadway in the Tasting Room Bar on the second floor.

The tasting menu offers locally inspired plates, such as the Scampi Arancini with Calabrian chili aioli, a lobster roll on a toasted croissant, a variety cheese plate from Vermont’s Jasper Hill Farm, or house-made brioche.

While you dine, sip on a Saratoga Julep made with Great Jones Straight Bourbon, or possibly a Black Manhattan with Great Jones Rye. Desire something a little more refreshing? The Sour Cherry Fizz made with the distillery’s Four Grain Bourbon, sour cherry cordial, and plum bitters should satisfy your tastebuds. If you want to branch out from whiskey, cocktails with gin and vodka are also available.

Before you go…

Don’t forget to pick up your favorite bottle of whiskey on the way out and catch the curated selection of gifts made by New York makers. Stock up on beautiful, golden barware made in collaboration with the Cocktail Kingdom. From cocktail shakers to a crystal decanter, there is much to choose from to elevate your bar cart.

Remember your visit at The Great Jones Distilling Co. with branded apparel and accessories, including refined gold jewelry made by the New York-based studio Bing Bang. Apparel prices begin at $28 and bottles of whiskey range from $39.99 – $48.99.

Visit The Great Jones Distilling Co. at 686 Broadway, New York, NY, 10012 (332) 910-9880.

Show me the way to More NYC Whiskey Distilleries

If you’re ready to explore more distilleries after visiting Manhattan’s finest, head over to Brooklyn for more delicious, must-do tours.

Van Brunt Stillhouse in Brooklyn, Courtesy Daric Schlesselman
Van Brunt Stillhouse in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn offers cozy ambiance and a laidback, nautical vibe. Photo Courtesy of Daric Schlesselman

Van Brunt Stillhouse

The Van Brunt Stillhouse, located in Brooklyn’s Red Hook, sources organically grown corn, wheat, and rye from a single farm near Ithaca, with no pesticides and no chemical fertilizer used.

But those aren’t the only carefully selected ingredients that make Van Brunt whiskeys so delectable.

“Our recipes are not really following the rulebook,” said Daric Schlesselman, the owner of Van Brunt Stillhouse. “We don’t use Distiller’s malt. We pride ourselves on using Brewer’s malt, which gives depth and complexity to our whiskeys.”

Van Brunt Stillhouse Whiskey Courtesy Daric Schlesselman
Enjoy tasting a Whiskey Neat with American Whiskey or Empire Rye for $11. Photo Courtesy, Schlesselman.

It’s pretty common for many whiskey distilleries to use distiller’s malt, but this type of malt carries significant amounts of enzymes, ultimately disrupting the flavor profile. With Brewer’s malt, the flavors become enhanced, allowing for a well-bodied whiskey with bready, malty flavors and hints of caramel.

Care and Thoughtfulness

Schlesselman also sits on the board of the New York State Distillers Guild, a collective filled with passionate distillers who offer their expertise on high-quality spirits, helping to inform consumers. His expertise, along with the care and thoughtfulness of ingredients that go into Van Brunt Stillhouse, makes this a must-see distillery with must-taste whiskey.

When asked which his favorite whiskey was to recommend, Schlesselman hesitated and chuckled, stating that “they’re all my children,” but finally landed on the distillery’s Rye whiskey.

The Empire Rye Whiskey has a cask strength of less than 115 proof, carrying notes of coffee and chocolate that mingle with raisins and cherries, offering a toasted almond finish. Buy a 750ml bottle for $69.

Touring the Van Brunt Stillhouse

Take an hour’s tour of the distillery, which includes tasting four of Van Brunt’s flagship whiskeys, plus one of the distillery’s limited-edition releases. Tours are available on Saturdays 1-6 p.m. and on Sundays 1-5 p.m. for $10/person and $10 off any bottle (or simply put: buy a bottle and get a free tour). State COVID-19 precautions are also in place, so bring your proof of vaccination. Book a tour on their website.

Take a Tour at Van Brunt Stillhouse Courtesy Daric Schlesselman
Take a tour at Van Brunt Stillhouse for $10/person on Saturdays 1-6 p.m. and on Sundays 1-5. Photo Courtesy, Daric Schlesselman

Visit Van Brunt Stillhouse at 6 Bay St. 1st Floor, Brooklyn, New York, 11231. (718) 887-6012

Brooklyn’s Oldest Craft Distilleries

While The Great Jones Distilling Co. became Manhattan’s first distillery since prohibition, Kings County Distillery, located in the historic Navy Yard, Brooklyn, was founded in 2010, becoming the oldest operating whiskey distillery in New York City to open its doors since prohibition.

Colin Spoelman, co-founder, owner, and distiller of Kings County Distillery, moved to New York City from Kentucky, resulting in several New Yorkers asking him as to what type of whiskey they should drink.

After seeing many great options for craft beer and wine, he asked himself, “why shouldn’t there be one for whiskey?” This thought process, coupled with the desire to embrace his Kentucky roots, led to the creation of Kings County Distillery, becoming one of the earlier whiskey distilleries in the country.

Blending Tradition

Kings County Distillery does not replicate Kentucky whiskey, since that represents a certain style of whiskey, but instead, they blend distilling practices from a variety of cultures. “We kind of exist as an American and a Scotch tradition,” said Spoelman. This blend brings out the elegance of whiskey, adding a little something different with a smoky flavor profile.

For a whiskey that illustrates Kings County Distillery’s complexities in flavor, try their Peated Bourbon. It’s perfect for those who may have an interest in scotch since it offers a hint of traditional scotch whiskey. You can purchase a 750ml bottle for $69.

Take a Seat at Kings County Distillery photo by Valery Rizzo
Take a seat at Kings County Distillery and enjoy sipping the classics, like Single Malt Whiskey or Barrel Strength Bourbon.

An Elegant Twist

What makes Kings County Distillery so spectacular is its ability in creating different flavor profiles. While many people may have a strict idea as to what whiskey should be, Kings County employs creativity and open-mindedness.

“We like to come out with flavors that can be for different people, so, for people who may ordinarily not like normal whiskey, maybe they’ll like the chocolate whiskey,” said Spoelman.

Chocolate Flavored Whiskey at Kings County Distillery Photo by Bobby Doherty
Classic Moonshine infused with cacao bean husks make for this decadent Chocolate Whiskey at Kings County Distillery. You can buy a bottle for $20. Photo by Chocolate Flavored Whiskey at Kings County Distillery Photo by Bobby Doherty.

These unique flavor profiles are crafted in sophisticated ways. The Chocolate Whiskey consists of the distillery’s classic Moonshine that has been infused with ground cacao bean husks from a local chocolatier. The Grapefruit Jalapeno Whiskey balances citrus with heat through infused grapefruit peels and crushed jalapeno peppers. A 200ml bottle of Chocolate Whiskey costs $20 and a 750ml bottle of Grapefruit Jalapeno Whiskey costs $49.

Tasteful classics include Single Malt, Straight Bourbon, Barrel Strength Bourbon, Empire Rye, and more.

Touring Kings County Distillery

Through sandstone turrets, you will feel like you’re going back through time as you enter the Sands Street Gate, the official 1896 entrance to the Brooklyn Navy Yard where Kings County Distillery’s tasting room sits. The distillery spans over three buildings, all built before the 1900s, giving you a taste of both whiskey and history.

Kings County Distillery in historic navy yard photo by Valery Rizzo
Find the Kings County Distillery’s tasting room at the Sands Street Gate, the official 1896 entrance to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Photo by Valery Rizzo.

If you’re curious about history, it would be wise to join the Top Shelf tour as it will take you through the history of New York distilling in addition to the magic behind their distillation process. The tour ends with a tasting that includes some of the distillery’s more allocated products. Take the 75-minute Top Shelf Tour for $30 per person. The 45-minute Distillery Tour will take you through the fundamentals of distilling with a tasting of their core products for $20 per person.

Kings County Distillery photo by Valery Rizzo
The Top Shelf Tour at Kings County Distillery will give you a taste of both whiskey and history. Photo by Valery Rizzo.

While there is no food at the distillery, pours and flights are served, as well New York farm wine and beer, additional spirits, and many options for cocktails.

“We are independently owned with a group of people who really love whiskey dedicated to making it in a traditional way,” said Spoelman of Kings County Distillery. “Brooklyn love goes into it.”

However, even if you’re not the biggest whiskey drinker, it would be well advised to try one of their flavorful infused whiskeys or cocktails. Ingredients are not sourced from anywhere else, keeping the magic in-house: “Corn to whiskey all in the same building,” said Spoelman.

Visit Kings County Distillery at 299 Sands Street, Bldg 121, Brooklyn, NY 11205. (347) 689-4211