Brad Estabrooke, founder of the Breuckelen Distilling Company, was a typical Wall Street banker. That is, until he got laid off in December 2008 and decided he'd rather make gin than find another office job. The 31-year-old began working on his Brooklyn distillery in March 2009, and he expects it to open for business next month. Over the next few months he'll chart his progress—the good and the bad—in an exclusive diary on Details.com. This week, he gives us a tour of the distillery. You can read his introductory post here, find out how to start your own distillery here, and learn the ups and downs of being a local business owner here.
When I started the distillery, the plan was to get set up and licensed by April 1, spend a month product testing, and then open for business May 1. It's now over a week into May, and I haven't heard anything more on the permits. I'm tired of waiting, and I'm close to freaking out. But we'll be ready to go as soon as they come through—and in the meantime, you can take a closer look at the distillery and see just how the gin will get made.
I remember the first time I came down here to look at the space. The Realtor had warned me that it wasn't the best area—you have to walk under the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and there are no sidewalks—but as soon as I saw the place I knew it was perfect. It's a great neighborhood with a friendly community. Next door there's a couple who makes sets for movies and TV shows, and a few spaces over there's a guy who creates amazing metal sculptures.
Since being truly local is a big goal, we buy our grains—like the ones on this forklift—from a farmer upstate. Those sacks are filled with whole grains, wheat berries, corn, and rye.
This is whole wheat. The outside of the grain is bran, and the inside is starch and germ. To get processed flour, which is used in pasta and white bread, the bran and the germ—not to mention most of the nutrients—must be removed.
And before I begin the actual distilling, I also have to mill the grains into flour. To do so, I place 300 pounds into the silver hopper. The motor (on the right) then spins the mill (the red object below the hopper) and flour comes out of the silver chute.
After that, I mix the milled flour with hot water in these blue fermentation tanks. I then add enzymes, which will break the starch down into sugars. Once the starches have been converted to sugars, I add yeast to the tanks and let the mixture ferment for three or four days. When it's finished fermenting, 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.
This is our label and bottle. As I mentioned, the label was designed by a Brooklyn native. For the bottles, we were hoping to find a starving artist who could make a hand-built, locally produced bottle on the cheap. But when we started looking into it, we discovered that most glass-blowing studios didn't use recyclable glass, and the one place we did find in Pennsylvania was out of our price range. So we ended up using a French company that made an eco-friendly stock bottle. Hopefully, we'll eventually be able to do a limited-edition bottle made with local glass.
This is going to be our tasting room. One of our neighbors constructed the tabletop, and we put up these windows so people can look in and see what's going on. We're allowed to pour three tastings per person per day, which will be served in compostable plastic cups. I hope that once people get a little taste, they'll want to come back for more.