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How to Open a Distillery with Allen Katz of New York Distilling Company

Allen Katz, New York Distilling Company

New York Distilling Company is a relative newcomer on the scene, having opened on the symbolic date of December 5, 2011–the anniversary of Repeal Day. But since its inception, the Brooklyn-based operation has released three gins, a rock & rye and now Ragtime Rye, a straight rye whiskey. So as you can see, the team that includes Tom Potter, co-founder of the Brooklyn Brewery, and Allen Katz–longtime bartender and spirits expert–has been busy.

Which got us thinking… exactly how does one open a distillery? So to find out, we went one-on-one with Allen Katz (pictured above).

1. Tell us a little about your background. You were a bartender first, right?
I came to New York to pursue a career in music and quickly learned to make a living in hospitality. Waiting tables, bartending and managing restaurants became my livelihood.

2. How did you get into distilling?
I became passionate about cocktails and their history and went off the deep end studying–nose in books, ready to make and try a myriad of cocktails. Distilling, for me, became a unique outlet to be creative and make something from scratch to contribute to the cocktail industry.

3. Do you need a science background or any chemistry training to distill?
It can’t hurt! You don’t necessarily need a background in science or chemistry, specifically, but you will need to have a working knowledge of chemistry to understand what is going on during fermentation, distillation and aging spirits, where applicable.

4. Did you face legal hurdles or any battles with the city in getting the distillery open?
No legal hurdles or battles, thank goodness. We took over a space that had no utilities. Getting the water hooked up and turned on was our biggest challenge.

5. NYDC is currently producing three gins and two ryes. Why the fascination with these spirits?
These are some of the classic (and original) cocktail spirits with popularity born in the 19th century. At the end of the day we are cocktail people making spirits for cocktails.

6. Tell us about your latest release, Ragtime Rye.
Ragtime Rye is made from a distinct and original recipe developed by myself. It uses 72% rye, 16% corn and 12% malted barley with the primary grains, rye and corn, being derived from New York State. The rye specifically is grown for New York Distilling Company by Pedersen Family Farms in the Central Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

Aged in full size American oak barrels for a minimum of 3 years, Ragtime Rye is a bold rye whiskey with a smooth finish that can be enjoyed on its own and is equally and ideally suited for cocktails. The unique interplay between the barrels and the passage of time creates nuance and positions Ragtime Rye as a distinctive American rye whiskey in today’s craft distilling boom and culture.

7. Are you currently working on other spirits, or do you have plans to release other spirits down the road?
Our main priority is continued consistency in our gins and, as we are able to increase our whiskey production, to focus on even longer-term barrel maturation. That being said, we are working with several different rye varietals for possible future products.

8. Any advice for future distillers? How does one get started in the business?
Lots of advice but mainly patience and perseverance. The best way to get started is to hang around existing distillers, learn as much as possible, take what you think is worthwhile and go on your own from there!

Written by Kevin Gray

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