Serious Eats: Drinks
Behind the Scenes at Industry City Distillery, Brooklyn, NY
Industry City Distillery resides a few floors above a bumpy road along the Brooklyn waterfront. There's a great view of Governors Island and downtown Manhattan, but otherwise the neighborhood is pretty non-descript. This is flyover country, via the BQE. The first time I visited the five friends and colleagues who founded Industry City Distillery, back on a cold morning in January, I was convinced that I had lost my way. But sure enough, behind a thick, unmarked, fireproof door in a dim industrial building hides one of the most unusual and refreshingly ambitious distilling operations I've ever seen.
ICD makes vodka from U.S.-grown beet sugar. The distillery's various licenses were approved not long after my first visit, allowing the founders to sell their product; presently they do so through some select local retailers and an online store able to ship across the country.
ICD produces no other types of spirits, nor do the guys running it have any immediate plans to. While a number of newly established small-production distilleries in America have focused on turning out spirits aligned with the resurgence of craft cocktails, such as gin and whiskey, ICD has tasked itself with making vodka instead—a vodka whose quality and scientific precision is second to none. They say that's far more of a challenge than you might suspect. For one thing, they've chosen to custom-build, on the premises, every component of their fermentation and distillation processes.
Before there was Industry City Distillery, there was the City Foundry, which the group envisioned as a kind of small-business incubator. Their waterfront loft space first took shape as a fully functioning workshop, where Zachary Bruner, the team's professional machinist and fabricator, could construct custom equipment that would help locals grow their fledgling businesses. One such assignment: fashion oversized baking sheets so aspiring bakers could take their business out of their home kitchen and to the next level. The distillery has become the City Foundry's first major long-term project.
The team's do-it-yourself ethos is only part of what makes ICD and its vodka unique; the distillery's fermentation and distillation techniques, developed in large part by team member David Kyrejko, speak to a remarkable passion for the art and science behind making alcohol. They explored a range of approaches, from practices used by industrial distilleries to those favored by small-scale alcohol producers in New Zealand, one of the few countries that permits home distillation. The setup they've created affords them maximum control to separate out their distillate into incredibly narrow cuts, which each can then contribute a specific flavor profile to the blend of the end product.
The choice to use beet sugar as the fuel for fermentation, according to ICD's Peter Simon, had to do with both logistics and ethics. "We're in an urban environment, so we didn't want to have to bring in grain, malt it, and then worry about the disposal process," says Simon, who's in charge of sales and marketing at ICD. "There is no solid waste; we get sugar in and we use it entirely." Sugar beets are also very efficient per acre to grow; they yield an impressive amount of sugar for the water it takes to sustain them.
If you can't make it to one of the distillery's weekend tours, not to worry; the most compelling evidence of just how serious they are about vodka comes in a convenient 375-mL bottle.