Allen Katz is the co-founder of the New York Distilling Company in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where he produces Perry’s Tot– Navy Strength Gin, Dorothy Parker – American Gin, Chief Gowanus – New-Netherland Gin, Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye…and a forthcoming American Straight Rye Whiskey.
How did you get into the beverage industry?
In my early days of involvement with the Slow Food movement I was often engaged in conversation about what might possibly considered authentic American gastronomy. Discussions over meals, drinks, road trips and readings resulted in a belief that Barbecue of the American South and Cocktails fit the bill. I went off the deep end on Cocktails.
What inspired NY Distilling Company and what is your vision for the brand?
We are cocktail people making spirits for cocktails. At the end of the day, what really drives us is the opportunity to be manufacturers - as well as marketers and sales people. Proudly, if our name is on the bottle you can be assured that we made it.
What differentiates NYDC's brands from other ones? What trends are you noticing in the beverage industry and how do you capitalize on them?
We try to make spirits that are purposefully different, that add to the conversation of spirit categories that people are already familiar with. Two great examples are Perry's Tot - Navy Strength Gin and Mister Katz's Rock & Rye. It has been nearly a century since Navy Strength (high proof at 57% Alcohol) Gin has been commercially available in the US. We decided to create one to capitalize on a once proud and popular tradition and as a way to stand out in an increasing crowded marketplace. It is amazingly smooth and eminently mixable! Perfect in a Gin & Tonic. Mister Katz's is another throwback to the 19th and early 20th century. It is young rye whiskey - that we have made and aged - tempered with rock candy sugar, cherries, orange peel and cinnamon. Once upon a time every saloon worth its salt would have made one in-house. You can drink it on its own or mix it in a cocktail. We want to be different, yes, but not so esoteric that people don't know what to do with our products. We are capitalizing on history, authenticity and the emergence of a new golden age of cocktail culture.
What strategic partnerships are you implementing have contributed to your company's success?
Distributor partnerships are key in growing a small alcohol business. Our alignment with Southern Wine & Spirits has helped us gain access to a vast marketplace that we would otherwise not reach on our own.
On production, before we even opened for business we started contracting for grains. In less than three years we have gone from 30,000lbs of rye in 2012 to nearly 400,000lbs of rye in 2014. We have been able to do this because of relationship established with Pedersen Farms in upstate New York. Their expertise and willingness to grow a rye crop with us has allowed us to expand at an aggressive pace and experiment with different varieties of rye.
Describe an ideal situation to drink your liquors and at the NYDC?
They are really quite versatile. You can toil pleasantly over a fancy cocktail or have a simple gin & tonic. That's the beauty of well made spirits. The process is part of the enjoyment but the happiness is in the consumption. My favorite cocktails at our house bar, the Shanty, are the 700 Songs Gimlet with Perry's Tot and a simple Negroni with Dorothy Parker.
Be too kind.
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
Easy. Authentic Camembert and a (Rye Whiskey) Manhattan.
Role model - business and personal?
My parents - for both.
Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Take the risk! What have you got to lose? As my father would say, 'you can always sell shoes'.
What literature is on your bed stand?
'The Very Hungry Caterpilar' (for my daughter) and 'Third Plate' by Dan Barber (for me)
Favorite travel destination?
Barcelona and the northeast coast of Spain
Most interesting headline you've read this week?
Biden Rolls Into Iowa With Nuns on a Bus'
What's next for NYDC and yourself?
Trying to put down as much rye whiskey as possible (about 500 barrels per year) for the next few years and maintaining the patience to let it age well. Also we are launching our newest spirit Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye on November 1st!
In addition to presenting food and beverage seminars for public and private groups, Allen has worked as a business consultant and in cocktail development for some of the most recognized brands in the beverage industry. He has been a featured sommelier at wine festivals in Naples, Florida and Sun Valley, Idaho in recent years and is a lecturer on spirits and mixology for the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) in New York City as well as for the Food Studies Program at New York University.
Allen is a frequent presenter at trade shows and industry events. He is a regular speaker at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, the New York Wine & Food Festival, the Manhattan Cocktail Classic and NASFT’s Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, Chicago and New York & The National Restaurant Association’s annual convention in Chicago on topics of regional food and beverage heritage in America.
Allen serves on the Advisory Board of Liquor.com and is Chairman Emeritus (ex officio) of the Board of Directors for Slow Food U.S.A.
ABOUT NEW YORK DISTILLING COMPANY - A distillery grows in Brooklyn.
The dream and challenge of creating a functioning distillery in urban New York is nothing new. The earliest distilleries in Brooklyn, for example, date back to the 1700′s. During Prohibition, there were supposedly over 50,000 illicit stills in New York City (a one-gallon still costing $6 dollars at most local hardware stores) to quench the citizens’ thirst as much as the hooch that was smuggled across borders. Since Prohibition however the ethereal perfumes of distillation have largely been absent.
The New York Distilling Company builds on this dream by establishing one of the nation’s premiere craft distilleries. Our aim is to create products and brands of exceeding quality and originality, building on an American cocktail heritage firmly in its second Golden Age.
You will see our gins in the marketplace today while we distill, tinker, and – most important – appropriately age our American rye. Our commitment is to use the most sustainably produced ingredients in all of our spirits and whenever possible to feature grains and other ingredients grown in New York State. See more at:www.nydistilling.com
(Photo Credit Doron Gild)