Friday, August 24, 2012

Behind the Scenes with Van Brunt Stillhouse

There are many craft distilleries popping up around the country, but some of the most distinctive operations hail from our beloved Brooklyn. During the 1800s, the Brooklyn waterfront hosted gin, rum and whiskey distilleries, but they were eventually forced to cease production when Prohibition went into effect. However, over the last few years, Brooklyn's boozy past has been resurrected by innovative new companies with a passion for artisanal spirits.

Located on the Red Hook waterfront, Van Brunt Stillhouse is one of these new distilleries which truly honors the pioneering spirit of Brooklyn with their handcrafted, small batch spirits. Their first release is "Due North", New York City's first native small batch rum since Prohibition. Distilled from organic, unprocessed sugar grown by small family farmers and dried in the sun in the foothills of the Himalayas, Due North offers pronounced notes of caramel, vanilla and sweet spice on the nose and palate, with a touch of dried fruit on the finish.

We recently spoke with Daric Schlesselman, the proprietor and head distiller of Van Brunt Stillhouse, who gave us the story behind the distillery as well as their debut spirit, Due North Rum.


DrinkUpNY: What's the history behind Van Brunt Stillhouse? What inspired you to create your own distillery?

Daric Schlesselman: I'm a very hands on person. I've always spent my spare time in the kitchen or garden or shop. My current job is in television which is very fun and creative, but it's very ephemeral. There is nothing tangible about what I make there. I had the glimmer of the idea one New Year's Eve and once it planted itself, I really couldn't shake it. A few years later I found myself buying a still and getting a liquor license.

DrinkUpNY: Why did you decide to release Due North Rum as your first product?

DS: My other products are whiskey and grappa. I love the historical roots of rum in Colonial America and New York in particular. The rum is also much more approachable when it's young. I wanted something I could be proud of right away while I develop my whiskey and give it the time it needs in the wood to really shine.

DrinkUpNY: Why did you name your rum "Due North" and what's the significance of the sea monster on the label?

DS: Sailors were traditionally given a ration of rum every day. Most days it was more water than rum. The sailors would use the compass points to describe how strong the ration was. When the ship was in for weather or a battle, the Captain would often ration out pure rum. The sailors would call that "Due North".

I love the fantastical monster. It probably came from a sailor embellishing the description of a whale when he returned to port, but I like to think of it as why the ship was given their Due North ration.

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

DS: At some point all craft distillers inspired me. Particularly the ones that invented their distillery out of nothing. It's an old craft, but most of the industrial design is for big distilleries and on a small craft scale, there is a lot of invention to pull together a good distillery. For example, I think Tuthilltown are great pioneers of the industry.

DrinkUpNY: What's your favorite way to enjoy Due North Rum?

DS: I like Due North right out of the bottle. I tried really hard to make a spirit that stands up on its own. But I also like it in a Dark and Stormy, or a Knickerbocker was popular this spring when the raspberries were fresh. I also have been having fun with what I call "The Battery Tunnel" which is a Manhattan-like cocktail with Rum and Dolin White Vermouth and Creole bitters. The white vermouth adds just enough sweetness but doesn't get in the way of the more delicate rum.

DrinkUpNY: Will Van Brunt Stillhouse be producing any other spirits? Are you working on any at the moment?

DS: I spent the spring working on my whiskey product(s) and will be rolling out one or two this coming fall or spring. I also will be making Grappa which I'll be releasing this fall.


Enjoy Due North rum in a Knickerbocker cocktail, one of the oldest drinks on record. Although its precise origins are unknown, it was included in Jerry Thomas' famous 1862 publication, The Bon Vivant's Companion.

2 1/2 oz.               Van Brunt Stillhouse "Due North" Rum
1 1/2 teaspoons    Raspberry syrup
1/2 teaspoons       Senior "Curacao of Curacao" Clear Liqueur
1/2 oz                    Lime juice

1. Shake the rum, raspberry syrup, orange curacao and lime juice well with cracked ice.
2. Place squeezed-out shell of half a lime in a double Old-Fashioned glass or small highball glass.
3. Pour the drink in, ice and all, and garnish with a few raspberries (or another in-season berry).
4. Serve with a straw and a little spoon for the berries.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!
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