Whiskey cocktail

The renaissance of rye whiskey begins in Industry City

“Why don’t you focus on the quirky spirit of America, which grows wonderfully here and speaks of the terroir of New York?”

Instead, Alex Clark makes the case for his rye whisky, which arrives under the very historically New York name of Fort Hamilton Distillery. Co-founded by Clark and Amy Grindeland, Fort Hamilton is not only a new and exciting addition to the whiskey world, but also a reminder that some of the most interesting things you can drink in New York are all housed under roofs. shared in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. at the City of Industry.

Fort Hamilton was launched in 2015, but it’s only now being noticed because, well, whiskey takes a long time to mature. “We did everything backwards,” he admits. “The common thing is you start with gin and vodka and then release your whiskey four years later – or realistically, two years. But then you are known as a brand of vodka or gin. (Ironically, FH finally released their gin this spring.)

Clark’s vision has always been centered around rye whiskey, drawing inspiration from both local New York history and the city’s cocktail boom of the early 2000s.

Born and raised in England, Clark served as a bartender while in college, took an unfortunate job in finance, and just before quitting, transferred to New York. Once here, he left the white-collar world and immersed himself in music, eventually landing at the East Side Company cocktail bar of bartending legend Sasha Petraske (which, unlike Petraske’s Milk & Honey, had a DJ component). “They put me behind the bar almost as a challenge,” Clark says. “That’s where I learned about cocktails from the best of the best, OG guys from the downtown scene.”

And it was on the East Side that he fell in love with rye whiskey, a classic cocktail staple that this downtown scene was trying to revive. Eventually, Clark went to work at foodie destinations like Balthazar and Marea before helping launch and grow Red Hook’s Widow Jane Distillery. As he recalls, “There weren’t many people in craft distilling back then, so I learned everything: distilling, brand building, sales, inventory management, and all these things inform what I do now.

Lacking capital, Clark was able to piggyback on other distilleries for space and equipment (even now he’s still aging casks at Industry City, which has buildings that offer improvised climate control/heating that aids in the maturation of whiskey). Fort Hamilton’s own space was built and completed around March 2020, just in time for the world to shut down. It took another year for touring to begin; From there, the distillery slowly started a cocktail program and this month extended their distillery bar hours by one day.

Alex Clark in the Fort Hamilton distillation room, located just behind the distillery’s Industry City tasting bar

Fort Hamilton Distillery

Here, on the second floor of a Sunset Park waterfront industrial complex/creative hub, you can try great classic cocktails and neat pours of bourbon, gin and a ground of rye (their Single Barrel is the real star). “Look, rye is harder and it doesn’t sell as much as bourbon, but it also doesn’t have as much saturation in the market,” Clark says. “Besides, young Bourbons are not particularly pleasant. Rye looks good even at a young age, though now we only post things that are at least four years old. If you’re making whiskey from scratch, you really should start with rye.”

The distillery uses a classic winter rye in its mashbill and runs the stills “somewhat inefficiently to create something oilier with a richer texture,” as Clark notes. Additionally, the barrels Fort Hamilton uses are 30 gallons, or something you would have found two centuries ago if you were producing rye whiskey in the area.

And history is important here. The distillery is named after Fort Hamilton, where the Battle of Brooklyn took place (it’s still a working military base). And the FH distillery is embracing the way rye was produced over 200 years ago while applying some of that history to their label design and even their gin, which contains a bit of watermelon…while the first skirmish at the Battle of Brooklyn of the Revolutionary War occurred near a watermelon patch.

drink alcohol at Fort Hamilton Distillery

Enjoy a few sips in the tasting room, now open four nights a week

Kirk Miller

After a few years of scraping and then a pandemic-induced delay, Fort Hamilton Distillery is now open to the public four days a week. The distillery shares space in Industry City with a number of like-minded beer and spirit brands. “It’s great to have all these people around,” Clark said. “It gives us a lot of room for collaboration and meeting creative minds.”

If you’re in Industry City, Clark suggests checking out the following (and note that there are plenty of other restaurants and bars on the property):

  • Fort Hamilton Distillery: Open Thursday through Sunday. Get some classic whiskey and gin cocktails and take a tour.
  • Barrow’s Intense Ginger Liqueur: In addition to producing a ginger-based liqueur, the tasting room is open seven days a week and offers “the largest selection of whiskey, gin, vodka, brandy and more in the state from New York”.
  • Brooklyn Kura: Artisanal sake, made in Brooklyn. Open Fri-Sun.
  • Big Alice Barrel Room: A farmhouse brewery where you can try 14 different beers made at their Queens brewery. Open seven days a week.
  • Standard absinthe distillery: all spirits made here (including a rye) are distilled with absinthe