“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” – Plato
When disparate forces unite, the audience invariably assumes this will result in a “win for the good guys.” In a framework where “uniting” carries a positive connotation and the “good guys” are always us, this is a natural expectation, though of course, these wins do not come easily. First we must overcome some seemingly insurmountable opposition, which in this case is one of man’s greatest fears… the unknown.
Despite being conveniently located less than an hour away from me, Brooklyn’s NY Distilling Company has largely gone under my radar. This is through no fault of their own, and the heroes of this story are veteran spirits writers Aaron Goldfarb and Robert Simonson, two men who clearly have their thumb on the pulse of the local industry. In joining forces to help me overcome my fear of the unknown (read: selecting this single barrel), these men have unwittingly contributed to the greater good (read: Malt’s readership) by drawing my attention to NY Distilling Company’s whiskey and allowing me to combat my own ignorance today (read: I’m going to drink it).
Founded in 2011 by the intrepid triumvirate of Tom and Bill Potter, alongside “the mysterious Allen Katz,” each of them brings a unique and extensive background in food and beverage to the venture. Tom Potter founded Brooklyn Brewery, one of New York’s preeminent beer brands, and retired from the company in 2008 before returning to the alcohol industry. He now serves on the board of directors for both the NY State Distillers Guild and the American Craft Spirits Association.
Allen Katz was the former Director of Mixology and Spirits Education for major distributor Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits and developed a reputation as a man about town in food and beverage circles, earning “the mysterious” as a sobriquet along the way. He can now be found doing almost everything imaginable for the distillery he founded.
Bill Potter, Tom’s son, has experience that runs the gamut from American Sommelier Association member to gaining his Spirits Specialist certification all while spending over a decade in the fine dining service industry.
When they first founded NY Distilling Company the group immediately put their experience on display and opted for nuance, rather than pomp, as a point-of-differentiation. Their branding is clean and straightforward, they’re exhaustive in developing their expressions (but do so with purpose), and they run a saloon on-premise rather than a tasting room so they can serve spirits other than their own.
That last point allowed them to broaden their appeal and increase their profit potential early on, but also serves to show that while they believe in their products, they’re self-assured enough not to just trumpet them to anyone who will listen. Quality speaks for itself and when those doing the speaking are of quality as well, that social currency carries extra weight.
Recently I had the opportunity to try their bottled in bond Ragtime rye at a bar and it left a positive impression on me. I encouraged my companions to order a glass as well, a suggestion that immediately paid dividends with an “Oh, man that’s good!” followed by an incredulous “They’re distilling in Brooklyn?”
To further shed light on what NY Distilling Company is doing in my backyard, I sought out this single barrel expression. The aptly named “Writer’s Rye”, selected by Aaron Goldfarb and Robert Simonson, is described in the tasting notes as “Ragtime on steroids.” Surely, I thought, if their standard expression was a revelation then this amped-up offering would unmask just how high the unassuming brand can soar.
Regarding the specifics: we have a mash bill made up of 72% rye (which was specially grown for NYDC in New York State), 16% corn, and 12% malted barley. Aged for more than seven years in 53 gallon barrels, bottled at cask strength (which is 112 proof/56% ABV) and non-chill filtered, and sold at the reasonable price of $55 via digital retailer Seelbach’s.
Ragtime Rye – Review
Color: Rich amber.
On the nose: Wild cherry Luden’s cough drops, pie crust with a light cinnamon dusting, walnuts, and fresh red apples emanate from the glass at first pass. After swirling and spending some time with this one I began to pull an earthiness reminiscent of freshly turned soil. Walnuts plus a hint of Canadian maple syrup are also present, and it should be noted that most of the above scents are subtle; only the cherry, pie crust, and red apples jump out of the glass with a particular richness, but all of the aromas are appealing in concert.
In the mouth: Right away I’m greeted by an opening salvo of tomatillos and green peppers with a hint of dark chocolate as the earthiness stakes its claim on my palate. However, after that initial burst there is a sweetness that emerges as the red apples make their appearance along with a butterscotch note that I didn’t pick up on the nose. The finish is full of black pepper and brown sugar in lovely balance then, given some time, there’s also the taste of buttery pie crust. The finish has a nice medium length, and the texture is substantial without being a noteworthy experience unto itself.
If there’s one impression I’m left with after this pour it’s that this is a beautifully balanced whiskey, though not in a typical way. I’m most familiar with harmony in a whiskey being represented by flavors that appear almost simultaneously, but in this one there is an unmistakable earthy, almost savory start that gives way to sweetness and spice that allows each of them to shine in turns.
I’d have to revisit NYDC’s bottled in bond offering to say with certainty that this is their distillate “on steroids” but I will say that this relatively easy sipping cask strength expression has lifted my impression of all those involved. Have no fear, New York Distilling Company deserves to be on your radar.