The Gin Diaries: In Praise of Being Your Own Boss

Brad Estabrooke, founder of the Breuckelen Distilling Company, on the ups and downs of being a local business owner.

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 this May. Over the next few months he'll chart his progress—the good and the bad—in an exclusive diary on This week, he shares what it's like to be a local business owner. You can read his introductory post here, and find out how to start your own distillery here.

Breuckelen Distilling Company from the outside.

One of the greatest things about owning your own business is that everything rides on you—the decisions, the successes, and even the mistakes. The thought of failing is pretty terrifying, but it's also a great feeling when things go right. And that's the only way I would have it.

One of the biggest decisions I made early on was to make this a truly local, eco-friendly endeavor. The grains come from a farmer upstate, a Brooklyn artist designed the labels, one of the neighbors constructed the tasting-room countertop, and the cups are all compostable. But there are some things that I just can't afford. It would be great to have solar panels powering the still, but that's ridiculously expensive. So I do as much as I can, and hopefully over time, if it's successful, I'll be able to do more things to lower the impact.

As I mentioned, my decision to open a business in Brooklyn was easy because the borough is filled with independent artists, chefs, and craftsmen. At the time, the community had everything but a distillery, so I thought it was a perfect fit. But now there are going to be three of us. Yes, three! I was, unfortunately, not the only person to think of this brilliant idea.

The first time I heard that Tom Potter was trying to open a distillery, I was devastated. I seriously thought someone had slipped him a copy of my business plan. I couldn't sleep for days. But the more time that has passed, and the more I have thought about it, I realize that it's only helped me. The first press I got was from a guy who was looking for Tom and accidentally stumbled upon me. So it's actually starting to work in my favor. I figure if you're going to Brooklyn to visit one distillery, why wouldn't you visit mine? At the end of the day, the growth of artisan businesses is only going to help all of us.

Maybe one of the reasons I feel so strongly about local business is that my own distillery has made me very aware that I am only one person, and I can only make one decision at a time. I've made plenty of mistakes along the way, but it's the little victories that keep me going.

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