Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Behind The Scenes: Industry City Distillery

A quirky blend of art, science and booze, Industry City Distillery is unlike any other. By deconstructing the traditional distillation process, they were able to build specialized, more efficient equipment that allows for complete control over the finished product, right down to the chemical components. The result is Industry City Distillery "No.2" Vodka, a clean, distinctive spirit created from beet sugar. We recently spoke with the folks over at ICD, so they could provide further insight to their unique product, and give us a behind-the-scenes look at their Brooklyn distillery:

DrinkUpNY: Industry City Distillery is the newest venture of research and design group, The City Foundry. Tell our readers what it's all about, and how this idea was formed.

Industry City Distillery: We're working to create a facility where we can integrate research, design, prototyping, manufacturing and marketing - of whatever any of us dream up. Rich, Dave and Zac all had separate workshops before this and by combining forces we have access to a wider array of resources than we ever could have individually. We also get access to the best resource of all - the skills, energy and ideas of the whole group. The distillery serves as a testbed for our collaboration as well as an eventual source of revenue for future Foundry projects.

DrinkUpNY: Why did you decide to build the distillery from scratch, rather than taking a more traditional route?

ICD: There are a number of reasons. The biggest is that traditional pot stills and commercially available column stills don't provide the level of precision we need for our product. It's a resolution problem. Traditional distillation allows for a rough separation of chemicals, four divisions (known as cuts) are typically made: foreshots, heads, hearts and tails. Of these four cuts, the hearts are what go into the bottle and for a vodka they are typically re-distilled several times to increase their purity. Our process relies on technology developed for the complete separation of chemicals in scientific laboratories. We distill only once and typically achieve somewhere between twenty and thirty distinct cuts. This process of complete separation and then selective re-incorporation allows us an unprecedented level of control over the flavor, texture and smell of our vodka.

We contacted a manufacturer of scientific stills during the planning stages of this project to see what a system like this might cost for our expected level of production; after we picked our jaws up off the floor, we set about building one. So, reason two: cost.

Finally, because we're such huge efficiency nerds (have you seen our real time power meter at and electricity and water are expensive in New York, building things ourselves allows us to keep resource management a primary design consideration. We introduced a high-efficiency steam powered stripping still into our process to make more efficient use of our batch distillation system. We developed a fermentation system - the only element in our distillery that requires climate control - that could fit in a shipping crate and costs less than a dollar a day to keep cool. The CO2 collected from our fermenters is one day destined for a greenhouse on the roof. We'll never call ourselves green, because green is a color and we prefer orange, but we're pragmatists - anywhere we can do something more efficiently, we will.

DrinkUpNY: How is your production process different from that of other brands?

ICD: It's different at almost every step. Our fermentation process keeps as much yeast as possible out of our boiler, meaning cleaner flavors (and cleaner stills). We utilize a steam-powered stripping still to efficiently concentrate the alcohol, and then it heads into our finishing still. That finishing still is a glass and stainless steel fractionating reflux column still, and even though we only make one distilling run per batch, the fractionating process yields tremendous separation and a product that needs no filtration or redistilling. Almost every piece of equipment we use is made in-house, and that goes for our product too - we'll never use anyone else's base spirit.

Honestly, the best way to explain everything is to come and see for yourself - we generally run tours Sundays at 4; call or e-mail for more information!

DrinkUpNY: Are there any other craft distillers who have inspired you along the way?

ICD: We make an effort to keep up with what's going on in the universe of craft distillation, but there are so many craft distillers coming out with neat stuff, it's dizzying. Lately we've been enjoying the spirits from Boyd & Blair and Dry Fly distilleries, and love how they're helping bring back the idea that vodka can have flavor in and of itself.

Also, a tip of the hat to Vermont Spirits for their use of a chemical-engineering inspired column still; we'd love to get up there and visit when we've got the time.

DrinkUpNY: What's your favorite way to enjoy ICD Vodka? Any cocktails you would recommend?

ICD: We drink it neat, at room temperature... it's not the traditional American way to enjoy vodka, but it's not a traditional vodka. We like to think of it as a Brooklyn sippin' vodka.

That said, it goes great in simple highballs like a vodka soda or Moscow Mule, or in something more refined, like a vesper, where you can flip the gin/vodka ratio. It doesn't need to be masked like many vodkas; it can hold its own in a cocktail like a subtle whiskey.

DrinkUpNY: What can we expect from Industry City Distillery in the future? Do you plan to create other spirits as well?

ICD: We're planning to launch our flagship vodka later this summer, after gathering and incorporating feedback from these smaller numbered batches. We're also planning to offer an overproof version of our vodka for those interested in creating their own tinctures or bitters, sold at the highest proof that the laws of physics (and the laws of New York State) will allow.

After that, we're hoping to see how we might apply our process to more robustly flavored spirits - we're not sure exactly what or when - but we'll keep you posted!

Get your bottle of Industry City Distillery "No.2" Vodka here!

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Friday, April 6, 2012

D'Aristi Xtabentún Liqueur - A Taste of Mayan Culture

Whether or not you believe in the Mayan Calendar doomsday prediction of 2012, one can't deny that their culture is certainly intriguing. The ancient Mayan civilization, centered in the tropical lowlands of what is now Guatemala, reached the peak of its power and influence around the sixth century A.D. They excelled at agriculture, hieroglyph writing, mathematics, pottery and more, and left behind an astonishing amount of impressive architecture and artwork, as well as scientific and mathematical discoveries. Although the Mayan Empire mysteriously collapsed, many of their present-day descendants continue to embrace the traditions, legends and beliefs of their ancestors.

Casa D'Aristi
Established in 1935 in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, Casa D'Aristi is dedicated to honoring the Mayan culture with their line of distinctive products, most notably, their delicious Xtabentún Liqueur.

Xtabentún is a regional drink whose origins can be traced to a ritual beverage produced by the ancient Mayans. This fermented drink, called balché, is a type of mead that was created by filling a trough or canoe with water and honey, then adding the bark and roots from the balché tree. This beverage was considered sacred, and because it had strong religious significance to the Mayan people, the Spaniards banned the drink in an attempt to convert them to Christianity. The ban was observed until a rebellious Mayan convinced the Spaniards that the balché actually had health benefits, and many of the Mayan people were dying as a result of the prohibition. They lifted the ban and the balché rituals resumed.

Over time the Spaniards developed their own version of the beverage by removing the tree bark and adding anise. This drink was named after the Xtabentún flowers that only grow in the Yucatan Peninsula. Casa D'Aristi has kept this tradition alive by releasing D'Aristi Xtabentún Liqueur, created with only honey, anise and cane sugar. Although often enjoyed straight, this refreshing liqueur is also delicious in coffee or mixed with tequila and lime juice.

Casa D'Aristi is also known for their other two products, Kalani Coconut Liqueur and Ron Caribe. Created from pure cane syrup and the pulp of ripe coconuts, Kalani is a sweet, full-bodied liqueur that is delicious on its own, paired with dessert, or mixed in your favorite tropical cocktail. Ron Caribe is a rum created from fresh sugar cane and matured for at least six months in oak barrels. Perfect for mixing, it will add distinctive flavor to a variety of rum-based cocktails.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!