Distilling in Brooklyn, 1850 vs. 2012

This post represents a collaboration between myself and my Very Good Friends, the Brooklyn Brainery.  They took my research about distilling in Brooklyn in the middle of the 19th century, and compared it to the growing population of distilleries in the area today.  Take a look at their post below, and be sure to check out all their fascinating and fact-filled posts on their blog here.


A couple weeks back, Sarah Lohman, author of Four Pounds Flour and Very Good Friend of the Brainery tweeted the awesome little map below, Distilleries in Brooklyn in 1851. Sarah’s map focuses on Central Brooklyn, and I love how you can see how concentrated they were in this relatively small area.

Open Distilleries in Brooklyn 1851 in a new window (FPF Note: Click through to the full screen map for more information on each of the distilleries.)

I wanted to see how the past compared to the recent explosion in distilleries as a result of New York State introducing affordable distiller’s licenses for small producers. I spent a little time digging around on the State Liquor Authority’s website and put together the map below; it includes anyone in Brooklyn with an active distillery license. You can click on each point to get a little info about the distillery itself.

Open Distilling in Brooklyn – 2012 in a new window

There’s a book or two to be written about all this, so I’ll just mention a couple things that seemed interesting.

You’ll see there aren’t any distilleries in DUMBO these days, whereas there used to be a ton. Of course, in DUMBO today, many of the warehouses large enough to accomodate industrial activities have been rezoned as residential buildings, and the neighborhood has transitioned far away from its industrial roots, leaving today’s distilliers to locate in cheaper, still-industrial areas like Sunset Park and Red Hook.

There’s also a huge difference in the scale of alcohol produced between now and then. Blair, Bates & Co., a distillery located at the corner of Flatbush and Pacific in the 1851 map, produced 751,000 gallons of whiskey each year, while the boutique licenses most contemporary Brooklyn distilleries have today allow them to produce only 35,000 gallons each year. It’s still a lot of booze, but just 5% of what a large urban distilliery in 1851 was cranking out.

A couple more notes. You’ll notice, on the 2012 map, a license issued to a business right on the corner of 1st Avenue and 41st Street. Turns out it’s the home of Kings Wines, which produces all sorts of Chinese rice wines and spirits, and their site says they’re the only Chinese-owned distillery in the country.

There’s also a license issued to Brooklyn Spirits, the folks that produce Brooklyn Republic Vodka. While they have a distillery license to operate a rectifying plant, it appears they only blend and purify the final product in Brooklyn and don’t do any of the actual distilling here.

Finally, if you like messing around with maps and liquor licenses, you will have a ball with the New York State Liquor Authority’s mapping project. And for a peek into what distilleries were like in the 19th century (hint: fiery + explosive), check out this post from the Brooklyn Public Library.

Podcast: GET TIPSY Alcohol and Drinking Games

The latest Masters of Social Gastronomy podcast! Jonathan Soma of the Brooklyn Brainery will unravel the science behind inebriation, from the moment it hits your lips to your next-day regrets. Sarah Lohman, author of Four Pounds Flour, will unveil the history of drinking games, from Geisha Games to ancient Rock, Paper, Scissors.

And now all the podcasts have a home on the MSG Podcast Page here! You can also subscribe via Itunes here!

Events: Brooklyn Boozehounds (Thurs, Oct 11)

Brooklyn Boozehounds:  A History of Distilling in Kings County
Thursday, October 11th, 7pm
The Brooklyn Historical Society 128 Pierrepont Street  Brooklyn, NY
Tickets are $10/ Free for BHS members.
Whiskey Wars, Swill Milk, and Illicit Booze– the production of alcohol has long been tied to Brooklyn’s history, through commerce and controversy.  In this talk, we’ll wade our way through Brooklyn booze-soaked past, from the earliest applejack producers to the end of distilling during Prohibition.  But the story of liquor in King’s County has a happy ending, through a change in legislature, distilling has returned to Brooklyn.  Whiskey, gin, and vodka are all being bottled in the borough, and we’ll be talking about this new wave of distillers who have picked up the torch.  With samples from Kings County Distillery, Brooklyn Gin, and Van Brunt Stillhouse as well as a “free lunch” of farm fresh butter from Saxelby Cheese and bread, cheese, and cold cuts from Sahadi’s.  And tickets are only $10! Get you tickets here!

Events: The Masters of Social Gastronomy Get Tipsy

MSG is our free monthly lecture series all about the history and science behind some of your favorite foods, and this month, we’re taking on drunkenness and drinking games.

Jonathan Soma  of the Brooklyn Brainery will unravel the science behind inebriation, from the moment it hits your lips to your next-day regrets. We’ll break down “beer before liquor,” red wine’s affection for hangovers, and other boozy old wives’ tales.

After Soma explains the whys of getting drunk, Sarah Lohman, author of Four Pounds Flour, will actually get you drunk! She’ll unveil the history of drinking games, from the Greeks flinging wine at each other in a game of skill, to the American practice of “toasting,” that instigated the prohibition movement. From Geisha Games to Ancient Rock, Paper, Scissors, you’ll be invited on stage to play and compete for fabulous prizes and free drinks!

During storytime, Sarah will tell the tale of the best drinking game ever, The Hour That God Forgot: an annual, Daylight Savings-themed Power Hour that will become a holiday tradition of your own. Soma will cover the history of that standard-bearer of game-based alcohol, the red Solo cup, and how a recent redesign could change the face of flip-cup forever.

Details: Public Assembly, 70 North 6th Street, Williamsburg
Tuesday, August 28, 7pm

Drink Like a Colonial American Day: What Have We Learned?

This is me at 8am yesterday morning.  It’s admittedly not the best photo ever taken of me.


That’s the one word Roommate Jeff had for me at the end of the day, after I bailed out on Drinking Like A Colonial American.  “SHAME!”  He was disappointed in me, to say the least.

I still can’t figure out why the day was so hard; my guess is the combination of drinks, plus the pacing.  One of the last things I want to do when I’m drinking is sober up, and that seems to be the name of the game when you’re ingesting a drink an hour.

I’d be interested to hear other people’s experiences with it, if they’re brave (foolish) enough to try a colonial drinking day at home.

The one thing I learned that truly amazed me is the effect the temperance movement had on America’s drinking habits.  I feel like the temperance movement has always gotten a bad wrap, particularly recently with the boom in books and documentaries about prohibition.  But considering in 1830 we were drinking five gallons of distilled spirits per person per year, and a decade later that number was down to two–that’s pretty incredible.  Perhaps our country was ready for a change.

But honestly, the most fascinating part of yesterday’s experiment was the discussion that sprung up in the comments.  If you haven’t read them, I encourage you to do so.

Thank you for participating, everyone!  I’m going to take a break from torturing myself for the next week while I celebrate my birthday.  I’m going to post a few lighter posts.  And then…well, we’ll see what the new year brings.

Drink Like a Colonial American Day

Dr. Benjamin Rush’s “Moral and Physical Thermometer,” published 1789

What am I up to? Read this introduction to understand the plan.



I have to start my day by “taking my bitters.” Bitters, infusions of herbs in spices in high proof alcohol, started out as health tonics. Starting the day with an “eye-opener” of spirits, water, sugar and a healthy dose of bitters was not only considered socially acceptable, but good for you. In fact, the first drink to ever be called a “cock-tail” was exactly this concoction, using whiskey for the spirit. And that’s how I’m started my day today, using an 1833 recipe for the original cocktail, as it appears in David Wondrich’s book Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash

1 tsp sugar
2 oz whiskey
3 oz water
4 dashes bitters

Muddle sugar with water until dissolved. Add whiskey and bitters. Stir. Top with grated nutmeg.

I grabbed the first whiskey I saw in the liquor cabinet, which was Old Crow.  Only after I made my drink did i realize we had a Buffalo Trace corn whiskey, that would have been more period appropriate because it was un-aged.

My boyfriend demanded to join me from under the comforter on the bed.  I fixed him a drink, and he sat sleepy-eyed on the edge of the bed holding it.

“Well, what are you going to do now that you’re awake and drinking bourbon?”

“I don’t know…vomit?”

Running Total: 2 oz of hard spirits consumed @ 80 proof

8:51 am:

I realized I made our drinks with one oz of water instead of three.  Whoops.  So we are just drinking bourbon on an empty stomach.

9:38 am:

Had a tankard of hard cider with breakfast (eggs, bacon, toast).  John Adams, an ardent temperenace supporter, had a tankard of cider with breakfast every morning.  It wasn’t cider, beer, or wine that was considered “alcoholic,” it was distilled spirits considered ruinous to the working man (see above chart).

Cider was the American drink–scholars believe that Americans consumed more alcohol through hard cider than the much more potent spirit, Rum.  The desire for hard cider didn’t subside until the temperance movement convinced many farmers to cut down their apples trees.  Thankfully, events like Cider Week are bringing attention back to New York State growers and distillers.

11 oz of hard cider @ 10 proof.  Running Total: 3 units of alcohol.

Yes. I’m a little drunk. Time to take a shower and get some work done.

11 am:

It is now the “elevens”!!!   The Colonial American version of a coffee break! A hot toddy is appropriate at the elevens when the weather is cold, so I’ve decided to make apple toddys, one of the first cocktails to be recorded in print.  I baked apples with “apple pie spice”, sugar and butter; then added them to hot water and apple brandy.  I used apple brandy from Warwick Valley Winery, and from Laird’s who received the very first distiller’s license after the Revolutionary War.

I have not managed to take a shower yet.  Let’s be honest here: if colonial Americans drank like this every day, their tolerance would be quite high. I will be drunk, but the Common Man in 1780 would have just been getting started.

I am trying to drink a glass of water between every drink.

2 oz of apple brandy @ 80 proof.  Total: 5 units of alcohol in 2.5 hours.

11:40: am:

Where has the time gone? I have still not showered.  I know I am drunk because everything is a celebration: “yaaaaay! It’s time to water the plant!!!”

12:22 pm:

Trying to sober up a little before lunch.  IN the meantime, there was an interesting thread on Facebook yesterday regarding Colonial drinking, and I wanted to share some of the highlights.

R: All I can say is that I’d hate to be Sarah the morning after tomorrow! They also drank fortified wines (in 18th and 19th centuries) which get you crazy-drunk. I’ve heard a lot of people say that everyone drank ale, even children, because the water wasn’t potable. That may be true if you got your water from Collect Pond, but rich people would have had their own wells. I think they just liked tying one on.

Me: I don’t buy the “safer than water” excuse. In NYc — possibly. But the rest of the country was not so densely populated, and America was known for good quality water. That’s why everything we brewed/distilled was so delicious! I think the bottom line is grain and apples are worth more as liquor; and this is also a time when we had little else to drink but water. Alcohol provided variety, that today we replace with soda and fruit juice. Also true about the beer–but it was brewed at home, and only slightly alcoholic. More like today’s fermented sodas.

D: That’s a good point about water availability in America. But I wonder if the prevalence of cider was partly a continuation of European standards, though. In Europe, there was very little clean drinking water, so people might have just thought that alcohol was healthier than water. And even in New World, a lot of clean streams wouldn’t have stayed clean for long once settlers arrived.

Me: I think it’s a myth. I think it has more to do with financial reasons. Grain and apples go bad. Spirits and cider not, and you can sell the latter for more than the former.

D: Is there anything we know about what the colonists *did* think about nutrition, including the nutritional aspect of booze? I mean, there must have been some as-far-as-they-knew medical knowledge and folk wisdom about what foods you had to eat in order to be healthy. Did they think of spirits as having some kind of common nutritive properties with grain, such that one was a decent substitute for the other?

Me:  I don’t know a ton about the topic, but I do know that “small” beer (home brewed, weak), cider, and wine were considered healthy, nutritive drinks that brought wealth and happiness, while distilled spirits would be the ruin of the working man. Dr Benjamin Rush was an early temperance advocate, and he made this great chart of what will happen to you if you drink various alcohols in various quantities (see above).


1:19 PM:

I’m hungover and its painful.

2:11 PM:

Managed to get to the grocery store for more cider and a DiGiorno pizza.  The lady at the store wished me a happy birthday (it’s the 15th) and I responded “You too!”

Having another cider with lunch.  Here’s my line up for the rest of the day:

Throughout America, early afternoon dinner was accopanied by hard cider or distilled spirits mized with water; in later afternoon came another break; then supper with more refreshment.  Finally, in the evening it was time to pause and reflect upon the day’s events while sitting by the home or the tavern fireside sipping spirits. (The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition, W.J. Rorabaugh)

Ugh. My head hurts.

12 oz of cider @ 10 proof.  Total: 6 units of alcohol in 6 hours.

4:13 pm

After my last hard cider, my boyfriend and I sat down to watch The Brave Little Toaster.  We promptly fell asleep.  Now that I’m awake, I’m clearly sober, clearly hungover, and I have a sickening migraine.

To be honest, I’ve walked this weird tightrope between sobriety and drunkeness all day.  Consuming so much alcohol so early in the day, on an empty stomach, is a surprsingly unpleasant feeling.  It’s honestly not what I expected.  I thought since the alcohol was spread out through an entire day that I would feel pleasantly buzzed, and not much more, as I Colonial drank away the hours.

I’ve taken my migraine meds and I’m trying to decide if the experiment should go on or if I should call it.  I still have afternoon drinks, dinner drinks, and after dinner drinks to go.

5:29 PM

My brother just texted to point out that I’m halfway through, and I’m already on step six in the Drunkard’s Progress: Poverty and Disease.  It’s only a short step down until I’m forsaken by friends.

I am trying to drink what a man’s portion of booze for a day would be.  Here’s what Rorabaugh has to say about the ladies:

While men were the heartiest topers, women were not faint-hearted abstainers.  Little, however, can be learned about either the reputed 100,000 female drunkards or the more numerous women who consumed for one-eighth to one-quarter of the nation’s spirituous liquor.  The subject received scant attention because it was ‘too delicate’ to be discussed.  The ideal of femininity did discourage tippling, for a woman was supposed to show restraint consistent with virtue, prudence consonant with delicacy, and a preference for beverages agreeable to a fragile constitution.  The public was not tolerant of women drinking at taverns or groceries unless they were travellers recovering from a day’s arduous journey.  Then the ladies might be permitted watered and highly sugared spirituous cordials.The concept of feminine delicacy led women to drink alcohol-based medicines for their health; many who regarded spirits as ‘vulgar’ happily downed a highly alcoholic ‘cordial or stomach elixir.’
See, I’m doing this for my health!


That’s it.  I’m calling it.  I can’t continue.  I know I’m going to get a lot of shit from my friends for now being able to go the distance, but I feel HORRIBLE.  I suspect it’s the hard cider, which I’m not used to drinking.  Something didn’t agree with me, perhaps.
Even if I hadn’t gotten a headache, I don’t think I could have done the whole day.
I haven’t drawn any conclusions about my experiences yet.  Let me dwell on it for a bit.

Tomorrow: Drinking like a Colonial American

The Drunkard’s Progress, 1846 temperance propaganda.  “Step 1. A glass with a friend.  Step 2. A glass to keep the cold out.  Step 3. A glass too much.  Step 4. Drunk and riotous.  Step 5. The summit attained. Jolly companions. A confirmed drunkard.  Step 6. Poverty and disease.  Step 7. Forsaken by Friends.  Step 8. Desperation and crime.  Step 9. Death by suicide.”

Colonial Americans drank.  A lot.

How much?

These charts come from The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition by W.J. Rorabaugh, an analysis of how totally trashed we were in Colonial times.  In 1770, the average per capita intake of distilled spirits (whiskey, rum, gin and brandy) was 3.4 gallons; by 1830, the per capita intake exceeded 5 gallons..  The average adult male was imbibing half a pint of spirits per day.  When you see the chart take a dip in the 1840s, that’s the temperance movement.  Today, we clock in at under two gallons per capita.
I also think it’s interesting that the total amount of alcoholic beverage we consumed dropped during prohibition; but the consumption of spirits rose. Bathtub gin was the drink of choice.
I’ve found Rorabaugh’s account of drinking in early America  inspiring.   Tomorrow, I plan to drink  the quantity of alcohol commonly consumed during the course of an average day in Colonial America.  I plan to imbibe  beverages appropriate to the time period: bitters, hard cider, brandy, whiskey and rum; served up in period appropriate drinks.  And I’m going to follow the schedule of a Colonial drinker, from an “eye-opener” before breakfast, to a tankard of hard cider beside the fire at night.
And I’ll be live blogging every step of the way.  Check back through the day to see how I’m progressing.

Events: The Big Apple Historic Cocktails

The Hot Apple Toddy will be featured on October 20th @ The Brooklyn Historical Society

Amazing event coming up on October 20th!  Let me give it to you straight: $40 for 4 cocktails.  More than that, the evening will be an exploration of locally produced apple alcohols.  You thought you knew cider; well, we’re going to blow your minds with products from new producers making alcohol in traditional ways.  Guest of the evening will include:

Revolution Cider, out of Philadelphia, who produces a unique hard cider inspired by recipes from the Revolutionary era.

Warwick Valley Winery is bringing their intense apple brandy, as welll as samples of the apple liqour (it’s like an apple in a bottle–soo good) and apple cider.

Cornelius Applejack has generously donated their artisinal, small batch applejack–generally considered some of the best on the market.

All this and so much more, including cider history and cocktail lessons!  Full details below; get your tickets here!



Thursday, October 20
The Big Apple:  Historic Cocktails with Regional Apple Alcohols
7:00 p.m. @ The Brooklyn Historical Society, 128 Pierrepont Street at Clinton Street Brooklyn, New York
Ticket: $30 BHS members/$40 non-members. Purchase your ticket here.

Apple cider, apple brandy, and applejack are complex alcohols that are infinitely mixable. We’re going inspire you to add them to your liquor cabinets with a night of nineteenth-century cocktails!

The evening will begin with a cup of Apple Punch, which features slices of crisp New York apples steeped in wine. While sipping drinks, guests will hear a short talk on the history of apple alcohol in New York. Afterward, participants will learn how to make three historic apple cocktails: the refreshing, spicy Jersey Cocktail; the warm and comforting Apple Toddy; and the sweet, meringue-like Tiger’s Milk Punch. These drinks will feature local apple alcohols made from traditional recipes. Participants will work with educators in small groups, learning about the history of each drink as they imbibe their handmade cocktails. Additionally, local apple alcohol producers will be on hand to talk about their products and the state of the apple industry today.

Generous donations have been made to this event by Revolution CiderWarwick Valley Winery, and Cornelius Applejack.

This event is part of Glynwood’s Cider Week, which seeks to cultivate an appreciation for hard cider. Glynwood preserves apple orchards in the Hudson Valley by promoting the production of hard cider and apple spirits. Learn more at www.glynwood.org.

This event is part of BHS’s Brooklyn Food Stories. Advanced ticket purchase recommended as the event will fill up. Ticket: $30 BHS members/$40 non-members. Purchase your ticket here.


The History Dish: Gazpacho and the Red Snapper

The first “gaspacho” recipe, from 1824.

Yesterday I appeared on Heritage Radio Network’s We Dig Plants, the bawdiest horticulture show on the web.  This past Sunday’s show was all about tomatoes, and I popped on as a special guest to share some historic tomato recipes. You can listen to the whole show here.

I brought along a few tubs of gazpacho I made from an 1824 recipes.  They were crazy delicious (I saved the leftover for my lunch today).  Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife, published in 1824, has some of the earliest tomato recipes in print, and the first gazpacho recipe printed EVER on the planet.  At least that we know of.  The directions are pretty self explanatory, so here is the original recipe.

I did not stew and make my own tomato juice, I found this great, strained, tomato puree in a box at the store.  The gazpacho was more like a cold, fresh salad, and was really wonderful.  Carmen, one of the show’s hosts, even took some home to her tomato-hating husband in hopes that it would turn him into a tomato lover.

I also showed up with Bloody Marys–or, more accurately, Red Snappers, as they were originally known.  When the drink was created in the 1920s, vodka wasn’t yet widely available in the United States; the liquor of choice was gin!  The recipe for the Red Snapper, from the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis hotel in New York, is below. I actually prefer the gin over vodka; I would recommend Hendrick’s gin; the cucumber notes compliment the tomatoes beautifully.

The Red Snapper
From the St. Regis Bar, 1920s

1 1/2 oz Gin
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
4 dashes Tabasco sauce
Pinch of salt and pepper
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
4 ounces tomato juice

Combine all ingredients in a glass and shake or stir to mix.  Serve chilled.


Both of these recipes are great if you need to use up a tomato surplus; For more history on both of these recipes, listen to the entire radio show here!

And on a somewhat unrelated note, I attended my first “crawfish boil” yesterday at the Brooklyn Brainery’s Summer Explosion.  I was all geared up to eat my first crayfish, but the sight of their yellow guts spilling out of their exoskeletons turned me off.  I don’t do well with invertebrates.  Instead, I stuffed my face with peach cobbler.

Snapshot: The Common Ale

This is a snapshot from waaaay back, over Memorial Day weekend.  Cleveland friend Pete brewed some beer from the 19th century called Common Ale.  He wrote an article about it awhile back, which you can read here, but May was the first time I got to taste it for myself.

A few evenings previous to sipping this beer, I had Ukranian food with The Alaskans, who have been been getting into beer drinking and brewing.  Alaska Chris explained to me all the vocabulary used to describe the flavors of beer, things like biscuity and grapefruity.  These flavors are generally created through various combinations of hops.  But I imagned these terms to mean things like “grapfruit-like,” something with citrus notes, as opposed to actually like a grapefruit.

And then I tasted the common ale. It tasted just like grapfruit.  Not in an extremely strong why, like straight up grapefruit juice.  Not like some girly beer with grapefruit juice.  But like grapefruit beer.  It was amazing, delicious, and refreshing.  I could never imagine that a combination of hops could deliver a flavor so close to an actual grapefruit..

If you’re a home brewer, I recommend taking a look at Pete’s recipe.  The common ale is a great summertime beer: light and infinitely drinkable.  It takes less than a month to brew, so you can sip it before summer’s end!

Update: Notes on the ingredients from Pete!

7lbs. American 2-Row Malt (Organic if you can afford it) If you’re an extract brewer, 4.5# of light dry malt extract would work just fine.
3lbs. Flaked Maize.
3oz. Liberty Hops.
California Common Lager Yeast — Wyeasts’ number is 2112 and ferments cleaner than White Labs’ yeast.