Five guys: a former yoga teacher, a sockeye salmon fisherman, an engineer and two Cooper Union alums. Naturally, running Brooklyn’s newest vodka distillery.
A distillery that just blew our minds, and is turning the world of vodka on its head.
Industry City Distillery‘s top-floor space at Brooklyn’s Old Bush Terminal is a guy’s fantasy come alive: welding equipment, woodworking and contraptions of every kind. It’s a model of self-sufficiency; nothing has been bought new: all the equipment is a result of auctions, eBay, and Craigslist. Instead of buying brand new giant vats, the guys made their own bioreactor tubes. Instead of outsourcing the design of the labels, they chanced upon a vintage letter press and create the packaging themselves.
But onto the vodka. Despite vodka being a neutral grain spirit, there are plenty of nuances in flavor. ”You typically have a large range of flavors,” explains Peter Simon, who looks after the business and marketing side of the six-month-old distillery, “but because you can’t pick and choose which flavors are in there. You get some good flavors, but the bad flavors are overwhelming. So you have to redistill it over and over again, or pass it through charcoal.”
Traditional distilleries separate vodka into four flavor ‘cuts’. ICD’s unique fractional distillation process separates it into 30, so they can blend the vodka to create the exact flavor profile they’re after, just like with whiskey. “Because we’re selectively blending, we’re able to remove unpleasant flavors. One cut is just like guttural burn. Another like boots.”
How many times does ICD distill their vodka? Once. But because of the highly scientific way they’re doing it, the distilling is a lot more precise than with traditional vodkas. Again, it’s all about flipping the process on its head.
They make the vodka using intensely filtered water and sugar beets, because it creates sugar that is identical to cane but without the mess of cane, completely in line with their environmental philosophy.
Then there’s the crazy fermentation lab filled with huge beakers bubbling away with thousands of algaenate-wrapped yeast beads (which they make themselves). It’s a process that uses less energy, requires no filtration and each batch of yeast can be used for a month, unlike traditional fermentation where the yeast needs to be replaced after each batch.
But the best thing about ICD is how it even happened. “That fish tank in the back there is how this all started,” says Dave Kyrejko, chief distiller and the official mad scientist of the five. “I was doing energy efficiency experiments, not professionally, just as a hobby. To build those fish tanks, they had mostly plants in them, and they required a lot of carbon dioxide. Well there’s different ways of getting your carbon dioxide: you can mix chemicals together, you can buy CO2 cylinders or you can ferment. I started fermenting and I realized I had this by-product – alcohol. I wasn’t going to throw it away, so I started playing with the idea of distillation.”
“Beer and wine were kind of finicky and expensive. And personally, I’m upset at the liquor companies’ lack of quality, especially when it comes to vodka. So, vodka.”
This is all very well and good, what does the vodka actually taste like? Superb. A vodka you want to savor and sip, instead of doing shots. Their first commercially-available vodka, No. 2, has a slightly sweet note with a hint of pepper. Most people like vodka because it’s an easy mixer – it doesn’t really taste of anything. By blending vodkas, are ICD hoping to change that perception? “I honestly don’t care,” says Kyrejko. “People can do what they want.”