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 it's opening this weekend. He's been charting his progress—the good and the bad—in an exclusive diary on Details.com. You can read his introductory post here, find out how to start your own distillery here, learn the ups and downs of being a local business owner here, and get an exclusive photo tour of the distillery here.
After 180 days of waiting, I received both my state and federal alcohol permits, which meant I could finally start distilling! I did a little dance of joy when I realized I get to make liquor for a living. It's definitely one of the coolest things I have ever done, and the wait has been worth it, although it's not been easy.
As I explained, before you even start distilling, you have to mash the grains (the process of converting the starches into sugar). You then cool the mash down, add yeast, and let it ferment for a few days. It seems easy enough, but for about a week, I was struggling with just that process. If I'd had an extra $25,000 lying around, I could have bought equipment to do the work. But since I am on a tight budget, my system is a lot more manual than most, and things did not go according to plan.
My first problem was that the grains ended up milling really thick, so the mash didn't liquefy. It was essentially a huge, pasty glob. I tried to work with it by adding extra enzymes, but it just didn't take. At this point, I had been working for ten hours, was exhausted, and just wanted to go home. I thought I could simply cool the mash down with water, add the yeast, and call it a day. In theory, my thinking was fine, except for the fact that New York City tap water in the summer is not that cold, and I couldn't get it to the temperature I needed to add the yeast. After a few hours of waiting, I decided to just go home, figuring that it would cool on its own overnight, and I could add the yeast in the morning. If only I had been right.
By the time I came back in the morning, the mash had already started fermenting. Apparently my grains had some wild yeast on them, which jump-started the fermentation process. But I kept going as planned and added twice the amount of yeast, hoping it would even things out. Thankfully, it worked. I let it ferment for three days and was finally able to start distilling.
The last step in the process is to steep the alcohol with botanicals. For the past few weeks, I have been playing around with different flavors. At first it was daunting to think of randomly mixing these flavoring agents. It's not like cooking—you don't know what the ingredients are going to taste like until after you brew them. So I decided to distill each botanical separately. This way I could really taste the individual flavors. I then started blending the flavors together, hoping to create a combination that I really liked. After some time, I finally found my flagship recipe—a blend of wheat spirit, juniper, lemon peel, rosemary, and ginger. It has a distinctive taste that I really like and am excited to share with everyone.
It's exciting to think I made this all on my own. And now that we have a recipe, we just need to start selling alcohol, which can officially happen when we open on August 1. After that, I am hoping to sell the gin to local restaurants and bars. It's been quite the adventure so far, but I can't wait for the first tasting on Sunday.
For more information on the Breuckelen Distilling Company's first tasting, go here.