Thursday, September 18, 2014

Story Behind the Brand: Industry City Distillery Technical Reserve Vodka

By Catherine L Luke

Industry City Distillery is nestled toward the end of a row of warehouses in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.  I visited David Kyrejko and Zachary Bruner, the brains and brawn of the company at their sixth-floor space last week.  A cute and helpful third business partner, Scratchy the cat, roams the grounds.  The distillery has a beautiful view of the water.  It’s housed in a large, light space full of books, plants, a workshop, tasting room, and distilling area.  All around are beakers, tubes, and other equipment reminiscent of a laboratory.  Quite different-looking from your typical distillery.   It isn’t only appearance that separates Industry City Distillery from other spirit producers.  These guys use a glass fractionating still that puts the company in a category all its own.

Industry City Distillery has very recently released a trailblazing second vodka called Technical Reserve.  Technical Reserve is not only new for the distillery, it’s a completely unique product to the market.  Distilled solely from sugar, it’s not a grain alcohol.  Its proof is 191.2.  This is an amazing thing as it’s the highest proof alcohol currently made in America.  Dave took a moment to fill me in a bit on this passion project that the duo has been working on.

Dave, you and Zach have created the highest proof alcohol in the world.  And it’s delicious! 
What’s kind of cool about this is that it’s not only the highest proof alcohol in America, it’s physically the highest proof alcohol possibly made.  If it were higher we’d be breaking the laws of physics or using some pretty nasty chemicals.

Was a high proof your goal in the beginning?
The purpose of this was very specific.  We wanted a product that would allow people to be creative.  There’s a lot of people interested in making bitters, tinctures, even people interested in making their own limoncello.  In the example of limoncello, why would you buy $60 worth of gorgeous lemons and pour Everclear over them?  We all know how that winds up.  So what we wanted to do was take advantage of all the technology we’ve been working on over the past couple years.  We have some very weird equipment.  Specifically, we use a glass fractionating still that lets us easily distill at this high proof.  Alcohol at this proof lets you make a great limoncello in hours rather than weeks.

How do you see this being used in cocktails and such?
It was made for people to get creative with.  Typically, when you’re talking about making infusions, you’re talking about weeks.  This is hours.  It’s going to hopefully change a lot of the ways that people use cocktails.  To put this in perspective, vodka is actually 60% water.  What if you could replace that 60% with anything?  There’s the alcohol content.  Now you can replace it with rose water, you can replace it with seltzer, you can replace it with fruit juice, or tonics.  Now you basically have vodka tonic that is vodka strength.  It lets people be very innovative.

What inspired you to go in this less traditional direction of distillation?
I like to think that we’ve learned a lot in the past two-thousand years.  If you treat liquor as  a combination of both art and science, the art of it is the flavor, the texture, the taste, and the smell.  The science of it is “how did that happen?”.  So, if you take a look at how scientists and engineers work with chemical problems, you start to have better insight into how all that works.  In the case of Technical Reserve, it’s not that we wanted to make the highest proof alcohol in America, it just that it happens to be that way.  What we do is distill to the azeotrope of ethanol, or the physical limit of the distillation of ethanol at atmospheric pressure.  The reason being that we wanted to make an entirely neutral product.  If you try Everclear or Devil’s Spring or something like that, you notice they all have a very distinctive sort of  rubbing alcohol taste and smell.  That’s a chemical called isopropanol.  By distilling to and only bottling the azeotrope we can’t have any of that present in Technical Reserve.  All you taste is clean ethanol.  That was the idea, and that’s why it’s 191.2 proof.

The bottle design is neat- appealing, compact, educational, and, I must say, pretty adorable.
We wanted to make it very technical, so we have things on here like the density of Technical Reserve.  You can pour a measure of a liquid and, depending on the temperature and day, the volume will actually change.  If you know the density you can use a scale to make super precise measurements regardless of the temperature.  Nerdy, sure- useful, absolutely!

How many distillations does Technical Reserve go through?
This is a cool thing.  It only goes through one because of the fractional process.  The still doesn’t look any like the other still.  There’s no copper boiler, there are no windows or anything like that. There’s just this very technically advanced material inside.  It’s filled with stainless steel bits called packing.  It’s very specific in shape, size, and the way it works.  What this does is it lets us take the distillation “power” of a 45-60 feet tall copper-plated still and make it 5 feet tall.  If you consider that flavors are just chemicals- the better you can separate the chemicals, the better control you have.  This gives us ridiculous control.  We’re able to make a product that is either super flavorful like Industry Standard Vodka, or absolutely devoid of all flavor like Technical Reserve. 

All are welcome to check out the facility in person.  Tours run every Saturday at 3pm.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Catherine lives in Brooklyn, and has worked in the wine industry in Napa Valley and NYC. She is certified by the WSET, as well as the school of "wine in real life".  Understanding the patchwork of little-known Italian regional wines, dishes, and customs excites her most of all. She (sometimes) muses on her blog GrapesofCath.

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