Built in Brooklyn

A truly hand crafted, small batch vodka. The best you ever tasted.

In a part of Brooklyn’s Sunset Park area is a 6 million square foot manufacturing district known as Industry City. This is the home of Industry City Distillery and a very unique product called Industry Standard Vodka.

Industry Standard Vodka
Industry Standard Vodka

A Brooklyn hipster friend well versed in matters of food and drink set me on to it. “You have to try this vodka, it’s unlike any you’ve ever had,” he said. So I bought a bottle and he was right. Not only was it sensational in a cocktail but also it’s also great sipping vodka.

What makes it unique?

Well, just about everything. But, even after a number of visits to the distillery and lots of conversations with the team running it, I’m not sure I can explain the uniqueness of their process. No matter how many times I read their description I think I get it but not really. Here is how they describe themselves on a sell sheet:

At New York City’s only vodka distillery, we build everything for our beet sugar vodka from scratch – from bio-reactors (glass continuous fermentation vessels) housing rare house-grown French sugar beet yeast, to ultra high separation batch fractional reflux still. Utilizing a uniquely precise distillation method, we take 30 cuts off of the still rather than the usual 3! The cuts are then rigorously tasted and the best notes are selectively blended together, allowing for exceptional control over the final taste, aroma and texture of the final product. Because of the care and precision of this process, Industry Standard Vodka has no need for any carbon filtration and is entirely free of additives, sugars, or modifiers. The result is vodka with a delicate, subtle flavor and unprecedented smoothness.

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Part of the distillery

They usually lose me at the “ultra high separation batch fractional reflux still.” All I can tell you is that they’ve created a new method of distillation and, as a result, it is terrifically smooth vodka that’s best enjoyed straight.

They are also energy efficient and have limited waste so of course they are environmentally friendly. But these aspects also have financial value.

Speaking of which, they are currently distributed in the Metro New York area and have the capacity to ramp up to four times the current production.

The team

On their website and even on their label, they described themselves as “nerds.” I think that’s a self-effacing way of indicating their love of the unique process they are using that combines biology, chemistry, physics and engineering. Every piece of equipment they use is developed by them and built in their own machine shop.

These are the guys you wanted to sit next to during your chemistry final.

The partners are David Kyrejko who is the master distiller and engineer, Zachary Bruner, a distiller and machinist and

The team
The team

Ronak Parikh who handles sales, distribution and operations. Their love of what they are creating is very palpable and their enthusiasm is contagious. They really are reinventing the art of distilling by using rigorous science. Oh, and they develop their own yeast and blend by hand.

Industry City Distillery shares space in Brooklyn’s Industry City with the research, development and support systems located there. Not many distilleries have a laboratory, a machine shop, or a letterpress studio, but their operation wouldn’t exist without them.

Technical reserve

The other product they make is called Technical Reserve. It’s described as the first ever liquor made especially for the spirits craft making market. It’s also 191.2 proof (95.6% ABV) and the highest proof spirit produced in America.

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Technical Reserve

What is it used for? I’m glad you asked. Here’s how they describe it.

We take advantage of our glass ultra high separation distillation system, and create a unique spirit made specifically for the bitters, tinctures, and cocktail craft enthusiast.

This spirit is highly refined to the point of being entirely neutral without any need for charcoal filtering or chemicals. Whether you’re crafting a new bitters or trying to re-create your grandmother’s Limoncello recipe, Technical Reserve’s neutral character and strong proof make it essential to any craft spirits maker’s tool box.

The part about making tinctures with it got me curious. I learned that it’s a medicine made by dissolving a drug in alcohol. Like tincture of iodine.

But, I also learned that weed tincture can be made with it but that’s considered the least popular way of consuming marijuana. Although, one marijuana maven website thinks it’s worthwhile and underrated. My advice is to stick with using it for crafted homemade products. I tasted a gin they made with it and very much enjoyed it.

Friday night tours

You have to see this operation to really appreciate it. So, if you’re in the NYC area, their tasting room is open to the public. Cocktails, nibbles and amazing views of New York Bay every Friday and Saturday from 4 to 10PM, no reservation required. Check their website for details.

Now about that “ultra high separation batch fractional reflux still process,” I think I finally got it.

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Vodka’s Journey: The Bumpy Road Ahead

Is the largest spirit category in the US heading for tough times?

15663595_mlDespite the massive size of the vodka market at 70 million 9-liter cases, there are signs that the rate of growth will steadily decline in the years ahead. If nothing else, all products have life cycles (think bell-shaped curve) and tastes and preferences are subject to change over time. After all, what got vodka to its height in the first place were the changing preferences away from whiskies. Now, it’s Whiskey’s turn to move back into favor. But, that’s only part of the story.

Vodka History

Who invented vodka is the subject of some debate – the Russians, Swedes or Poles – it really doesn’t matter for this analysis, so let’s fast forward to the US and the post WWII period.

Prior to the 1960s, whiskies (imported or domestic) were dominant with a smattering of gin preferences. Many distillers at the time looked down their noses at vodka, partly because “odorless, colorless and tasteless” was not in the distiller’s blending art and, partly because it was seen as the alcohol preference of excessive drinkers. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think the Smirnoff (or was it Popov) ad slogan “leaves you breathless” was a signal to have a drink anytime/anyplace and no one will know.

By the 1970s preferences among drinkers began to change in favor of vodka thanks to: James Bond, changing tastes of women (preferring mixable, sweet drinks), drinkers who wanted the effect of alcohol without the “silent shudder” and the emergence of interesting and fun concoctions (cocktails, such as the Moscow Mule).

The 1980s and 1990s brought further accelerated growth with vodka cocktails (think Sex and The City) and the advent and growth of imported 9924372_mlbrands led by Absolut and it’s advertising. At the beginning of this period there were only a handful of imports, most notably Stoli, Finlandia and Absolut. But, a number of important factors changed the picture.

In the 1980s, based on Russian misadventures (Korean Airline, Olympic boycotts, etc), Absolut benefitted from the Stoli boycott and the door was open to other imports. In the mid 90s, brands like Ketel One and Grey Goose taught the consumer that super and ultra premium vodka brands were worth paying for. At the same time, flavored vodkas began to make their presence known and further changed the category.

The Flavor explosion

At first, the flavors had some meaning and a strategic role to play. Want to enhance the flavor of a drink, choose citrus vodka; make that Bloody Mary zing, choose spicy vodka; and so on. Gradually the ‘simplistic’ flavors gave way to the exotic – mango, strawberry, apple, peach, vanilla and so on.

By the 2000s, the flavors took hold and gradually moved from exotic to the ridiculous – marshmallow, whipped cream, sorbet, cake, candy, bacon, salmon and other flavors that, as the saying goes, I wouldn’t drink with your mouth.

While this senselessness was going on, another factor entered the market – the low priced imported segment. Brands like Svedka, Sobieski, Wodka and others basically said to the consumer, “Hey, you’ve been overpaying; here’s imported quality at a low price.”

The net result of the “tutti frutti” flavors and inexpensive brands has been to churn the market and create confusion. Both among the trade, stuck with dozens of fad flavors and brands, and consumers, who face a dizzying array of choices.

Where is it all heading?

The storm clouds on the horizon are coming from two main directions – craft products and whiskey and even a combination of the two.

Ironically, whiskey (particularly American) originally defeated by vodka, has come back and with a vengeance. From 2012 to 2013, the rate of whiskey’s growth was two and a half times faster than all vodka including flavored. Leading the whiskey charge were flavored whiskeys (the sweetness factor again); interest in unique cocktails (traditional and new) and mixologist skills; and the craft, small batch explosion.

Whiskies of all types have begun to capture the drinking imagination of consumers regardless of age or gender. They’re fun to talk about, to drink and to identify with – whether bourbon corn, rye, or malt – they represent serious products and an understanding that, unlike vodka, they require skill that is more than turning on a tap.

Tito's Vodka
Tito’s Vodka

Enter the craft or small batch phenomenon. Not only is it fueling the whiskey growth, it’s also impacting the vodka category. Take a brand like Tito’s for example; it’s grown by over 40% compounded in the last five years, based largely on its “Hand Crafted” claim. Although, I wish someone could explain to me how you are hand crafted at nearly 1.5 million 9-liter cases.

Nevertheless, the craft concept, claim or whatever, is also becoming a factor in vodka with micro distilleries and the anti-filtration movement that’s just beginning. (By the way, the “unfiltered” vodka approach makes me chuckle… we’ve gone from filtered over charcoal, lava rocks, precious minerals and vestal virgins during a full moon to what, straight from the still?)

Our vodka
Our/Vodka Detroit

I think the Big Boys are starting to take notice of the vodka evolution. What choice do they have other than watch their sales go down and miss their bonuses. Take Absolut’s Elyx for example. It’s billed as “the single estate handcrafted vodka.” Other than marketing hype, I have no idea what they are trying to say about the brand. I think it has something to do with copper stills and an offbeat “global creative director.”

Also, Pernod Ricard’s Absolut is going into the micro distillery business and opening local distilleries around the world including Seattle, Detroit, London, Melbourne and others. It’s called Our/Vodka and supposedly the uniqueness of the concept will return the brand to its glory days. Good luck with that.

Grey Goose VX
Grey Goose VX

Finally, Bacardi’s Grey Goose is introducing Grey Goose VX, which “contains Cognac created from grapes from the Grande Champagne cru.” It’s currently only available at Travel Retail outlets, probably as a market test of the viability. According to The Spirits Business, “Bacardi has claimed Grey Goose VX (which stands for vodka exceptionelle) is a “significant step change for the vodka/white spirits category”.

So look for more churn in the vodka market in the years ahead. The growth will decelerate as the crazy flavors are put out to pasture (or wherever errant products go) and the competition from outside the category heats up.

The response from the vodka companies will be interesting to track. I can’t help but think of the expression, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

 

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