City Spirit: The Best Urban Distilleries
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City Spirit: The Best Urban Distilleries

London Distillery Company
Bloomberg via Getty Images

New York, Boston, and Philadelphia all had their fair share of distilleries as far back as the Colonial era. The rise of prohibition, however, meant the fall of many urban distilleries. By the time the law was repealed most had been dismantled and left to deteriorate. Recently, urban distilling has seen a huge resurgence in both American and European cities alike, due to newly supportive legislation, and a tidal wave of interest in craft spirits. Now you can find distinctly Irish whiskey in the heart of Dublin, and artisanal, flavored vodkas in the City of Light. These popular urban distilleries not only turn out some of the best spirits on the market, but they also capture the character of the metropolises they call home.

Teeling Whiskey in Dublin, Ireland

The last of Dublin's operating distilleries shut down in 1976. In 2014, brothers Jack and Stephen Teeling saw an opportunity to fill this gap and opened Teeling Whiskey, the first new distillery in the city in 125 years. The Teeling family has a long history in whiskey, and strives to both innovate, as well as pay homage to, the Ireland's world-renowned whiskey reputation. "We are trying our best to ensure we are adding to the cultural fabric of Dublin society," said Jack Teeling, "[and] to capture the 'Spirit of Dublin' in how we go about things." To that end, Teeling often collaborates with local producers, selling Irish whiskey-infused jams, ice cream, and BBQ sauce at the gift shop, and creating menus and pairings for local restaurants. Visitors can end their tour at the Bang Bang Bar for a signature cocktail or a dram of any one of the various Teeling expressions.

King's County Distillery in Brooklyn, New York

New York City was once home to many urban distilleries. King's County's Colin Spoelman is something of an expert on the subject. In the early 2000s, New York State passed legislation making it much easier for small distilleries to get up and running, and Spoelman and his crew jumped at the chance. "Urban distilleries allow greater interactivity between customer and distillers," he said. Given the amount of craftspeople populating the borough, it wasn't hard for King's County to find like-minded companies to collaborate with. Its chocolate whiskey features Mast Brothers chocolate husks, and there's a limited-release honey moonshine made with honeycombs from Brooklyn Grange Farm.

The London Distillery Company in London, England

London is not exactly known as being a leader in this whiskey-crazed world. But that may be set to change with the opening of The London Distillery Company, the first whiskey producer to call the city home in over a century. As of now, operations are still very much in the experimental phase, but you can order test samples of a British rye and "experimental gin" to chart how the company is doing as it crafts and tests its spirits.

NY Distilling Company in Brooklyn, New York

Tom Potter was no stranger to the alcohol business, having cofounded Brooklyn Brewery in 1987. He retired in 2004 and, along with Allan Katz, started up NY Distilling Company. The company, located in the trendy Williamsburg neighborhood, offers a wide variety of spirits, including several types of gin, a Rock & Rye, and a brand new, straight rye whiskey. Potter recognizes that operating in an urban setting presents some challenges. "In a rural setting [we] can have things spread out—but in the city everything needs to be compact." In true urban fashion, their Shanty bar sits just adjacent to the production area, where visitors can sample the spirits in a variety of cocktails.

House Spirits in Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon is home to several urban distilleries, and the largest—not just in the city, but in the entire state—is House Spirits, which has just opened a new facility. "We are really proud of our downtown location, and believe that our Portland culture and love for this city [has] helped shape our brand over the course of the past decade," said founder Christian Krogstad. House Spirits was conceived of as cocktail and distiller collaboration, and that sensibility continues today. The team often works with local establishments like Raven & Rose on cocktails and cask strength-versions of their spirits, and they participated in this past year's Feast Portland food and drinks festival. Visitors can sample and purchase Aviation American Gin, Krogstad Festlig Aquavit, Westward Oregon Straight malt Whiskey and more at the House Spirits Tasting Room.

KOVAL in Chicago, Illinois

Chicago is yet another city that, for many years, lacked any distilleries (and thus any indigenous spirits). In 2008, this changed when KOVAL opened its doors, producing single barrel, organic expressions of a variety of spirits. "Chicago was a city built on manufacturing, but has since transformed into a hub for technology, fashion, art, and hospitality," said president Sonat Birnecker Hart. "By combining traditional distilling methods with innovative technologies and thoughtful design practices, KOVAL represents both Chicago's industrial history as well as the modern, cosmopolitan metropolis that it is today." In that spirit, KOVAL collaborated on an event with DMK Burger Bar, featuring its new Dry Gin, and visitors can sign up for numerous cocktail classes.

Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey in Denver, Colorado

Master distiller Rob Dietrich believes that operating in the city instead of the nearby mountains offers a wide array of benefits. "In Denver, we have all of our resources readily available," said Dietrich. Still, Stranahan's faced some hurdles in getting up and running. "It's always harder to be a pioneer than to be a settler." he added "Sometimes, you get to be both." Stranahan's is a truly unique American whiskey with a mash bill that consists of 100 percent Rocky Mountain barley—no corn, no rye, and no wheat. The result is extremely malty and smooth-tasting. Instead of an age statement, each bottle lists what music was being listened to during the bottling process (The Pixies, for example). Best of all, Stranahan's is an important part of the community—they even have a 30,000-person waiting list of volunteers to help bottle the whiskey, and they work closely with local bars and restaurants to collaborate on pairings and whiskey-based dishes. After a tour, visitors can stop in at the Whiskey Lounge for cocktails like a Stranhattan or Rocky Mountain Cream Soda.

Distillerie de Paris in Paris, France

Perhaps the newest of all urban distilleries is Distillerie de Paris, which has been in operation for less than a year. Right now, it offers a gin, flavored vodkas (think tea-flavored mixtures with anise and citrus, or Indian-inspired blends with combawa and exotic spices), rum, and a "gin style" brandy—flavored with jumiper, citrus, and Cognac grapes. More is certainly to come as the founders, Nicolas and Sébastien Julhès Julhès continue to craft their distinctly French take on a variety of spirits.

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