Building for the Future
Industry City's space is split roughly between the foundry and distillery. Having a well-equipped machine shop on-site allows the distillers to build, tweak, and refine components practically on the fly.
Construction is currently under way on larger-scale stills to replace the super small-batch test stills that ICD has been using since its inception.
Aside from the fulfilling the technical needs of the distillery, the foundry machine shop makes functional furniture used around the facility.
Richard Watts, the team's graphic designer, works with a 1930s-era letterpress, obtained from a Connecticut foundry, to ink the bottle labels and other of ICD's printed materials.
Each bottle label is first screen-printed orange on its back side before being letterpressed and numbered.
The Fermentation Lab
A narrow corridor houses ICD's fermentation devices. "For fermentation, the big thing we've been trying to do is make a totally new setup that was more efficient, that didn't require filtration, and that kept our yeast happier," says Peter Simon. They use yeast cells trapped within permeable alginate balls, which allow the yeast to feed on a constantly flowing solution of water, sugar, and other nutrients, but keep them from invading the next phase of the process.
Thanks to the continuous flow of sugar water through the fermentation system, "We're making about 10.5 to 11 percent alcohol, 24/7," Simon explains.
Bulah and Ivy
ICD's pair of stills. "Ivy" (at right) is a stripping still, able to "take that 10.5 to 11 percent alcohol, flash that alcohol off, and concentrate it," Simon says, to a roughly 45 percent alcohol distillate. "That machine runs on about as much power as an industrial coffee maker." Bulah (at left) is a batch fractionating reflux still, capable of minutely separating chemicals and alcohol compounds into discrete cuts for blending later on.
Ivy, Up Close
The elaborate column on ICD's stripping still. The second iteration of this still, "Ivy II," will have 10 times the capacity of the current version.
A Cut Above
Simon says: "We're able to get about 30 cuts off the stills. And each of those cuts has a slightly different profile and flavor. There's a number of them that taste very neutral, because they're almost entirely ethyl alcohol. But then you'll have ones that taste a little bit like pear, and you'll have ones that taste more like peppercorns. And you'll actually find ones that taste like chalk. And that's the guy that gives you that tough, guttural burn that you really don't want in a vodka. Using this system, we can find that little piece and remove it."
A Matter of Taste
After they have those 30 different cuts to work with, the team begins to blend portions of them to make the final product. "It becomes a very explorative process of tasting and smelling," Simon says. Of the 30 cuts, only 15 to 18 may end up being used. "We are very, very picky."
The Right Stuff
Their goal is to make something unique for a category that includes numerous producers who rely on factory-made neutral grain spirits to make up some or all of the alcohol in their vodkas. "The point of those factories is really to produce as much good ethanol as fast as possible," Simon says. "That produces a great base for a lot of very interesting spirits, but it doesn't give you the type of separation your necessarily want." That finely parsed separation allows ICD to isolate and remove what they consider the burning, chalky, "off" flavors present in many mass-market products. "We're trying to explore a vodka that could be a sipping vodka," he adds, "that can be enjoyed in new ways and doesn't need to be drowned in orange juice and cranberry juice."