I admit to having an unhealthy fixation with Red Hook. It has everything this urban idealist needs to believe that Brooklyn will find a new model for Twenty-First Century urbanity. Decaying signs of its roots as an industrial port mingle seamlessly with its more recent revitalization, making it an ideal laboratory for a sustainable future. Old factory buildings house art studios and business startups of every stripe, and many of their roofs are topped with gardens. When I get a sinking feeling about my choice to live and raise a family in the largest city in North America after, say, listening to too much WYNC or reading The Power Broker, I go walking in Red Hook.
One discovery I’ve recently made is the Van Brunt Still House, one of a growing number of “artisanal distilleries” in a collective of small-batch alcohol providers commonly referred to as the Brooklyn Spirits Trail.
Married co-owners Daric Schlesselman and Sarah Ludington have two daughters currently in grade school. Daric, a video editor by trade, started homebrewing five or six years ago, but after getting a vintage still he quickly found his interests veering toward the world of spirits. Within a couple of years he and Sarah found a small space in Connecticut to expand their production levels. Finally, they moved into their space in Red Hook in July 2011, and got their license in January of 2012. Sarah, a trained architect, now does fulltime distribution at the still house.
Now, in their second year in the Red Hook space, Daric and Sarah are producing a nice selection of boutique liquors. As with many small American distilleries, their biggest seller is whiskey. The four-grain American whiskey, their flagship, has a distinctively light flavor on the palate, and they also offer a rye, a malt, and a bourbon. In this early stage of their growth as a distiller, they’re experimenting with barrel size for aging, as well as finding the right combination of selling product and keeping inventory to properly age for years to come.
Their rum, which they’ve branded Due North, is made in smaller batches from organic, unprocessed sugar imported from India. Tasting these crystals on Sarah’s recommendation, I revised my conception of what sugar can taste like and understood why I loved their rum so much.
The smallest-batch liquor they make was also the first they made at their Red Hook location: grappa. I love the story. They started making the grapeskin liquor with the leftover crushed grapes from Red Hook Winery across the way, and now get their grapeskins from both Red Hook and Brooklyn Wineries—all New York state grapes, repurposed for a second life.
In fact, Daric and Sarah have found a use for pretty much every ingredient in the distilling process. They sell the spent grain back to the farmer they bought it from, who then uses it as animal feed. They collect the water used to cool the still and use it to mash the grain in in another process. All this comes together to represent something I might call Red Hook Economics.
The distillery is open to the public on weekends from 1-5pm, and offers tastings at 2:00 and 4:00. And if you’d like to be part of the process, they offer mini-barrels for aging your liquor at home.