by Nina Boutsikaris
Monday, September 24th
By 7:30 in the evening, Haven's Kitchen, a recreational cooking school and specialty food shop in Chelsea, was brimming with Slow Food members happily imbibing their way through Slow Food NYC's First Annual Spirits of New York Cocktail Event. Guests snacked on Martin's Handmade Pretzels and Long Island North Fork Potato Chips between sips of herbal infused vermouth, local whiskeys and ryes, decadent rums and liqueurs, and seasonal moonshine cocktails topped with local concord grapes, just-picked apples, and honey harvested from a New York rooftop.
From the Finger Lakes region to historic Red Hook Brooklyn, whose remoteness, spaciousness, and affordable rent make it an urban artist's dream, New York's artisan distilleries are reinvigorating small scale, regional spirits production and helping build vibrant, local economies by supporting local farmers and creating local jobs. And of course, in true Slow Food fashion, their concoctions are innovative and delicious.
Along with traditional distribution to liquor stores or boutique bars, a recent loosening of laws now allows crafters to sell their wares right from the source, as well as directly to farmers markets. This, plus a massive drop in the distillery fee, has birthed a new crop of passionate, young distillers. "It has really spurned what you see here with my colleagues," said Bill Potter, co-founder of the New York Distilling Company, a North Brooklyn distiller who boasts Perry's Tot "Navy strength" gin, the kind of highly flammable liquor found on British war ships during the Napolenoic era. Thanks to the changing laws, "many of us are now 4 or 5 years old and growing quickly," said Potter.
The fall tasting lineup also included Jack From Brooklyn's Sorel liqueur made with Moroccan Hibiscus, a recipe that founder Jack Summers had been making for 15 years in his home kitchen; Uncouth Vermouth's herbal infused specialties (lemon balm and berries come from Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills as well as the founder's mom's backyard in Jersey); a wide range of whiskeys from Hudson Whisky, the oldest distillery in the state; Cacao Prieto's chocolately rum, made from the cacao beans of the owner's Dominican plantation; rich Peach Brandy from Dutch's Spirits, a modern establishment built from the foundations of the largest bootlegging operation ever uncovered in Dutchess County during prohibition; and much more.
More was shared than just a warm buzz on this chilly early-fall night -- Slow Food's latest event was a true testament to the support network among budding local crafters. Vendor's proudly spoke of their peers' achievements, while mixing their drinks with tonic water from Q Tonics in DUMBO, Dutch's Spirits Colonial Bitters, and small batch rhubarb and ginger syrups from Brooklyn-based Morris Kitchen. Together, this vibrant community is paving the way for an exciting future in local distilling.
Nina Boutsikaris is a freelance writer and a Slow Food supporter with a taste for locavore cuisine.
Photographs by Paul Sliker