Liquor 2.0: Industry City Distillery’s New High-Proof Alcohol That’s Changing the Cocktail Game
By Meredith Heil
Photos by Meredith Heil.
“This is a base ingredient for anything you’d want to make,” says Industry City Distillery’s David Kyrejko, holding up a glass bottle swathed in a crisp blue and white label. “Bitters, infusions, cocktails–everything. If you want to make your own Absinthe, two hours. If you want to make your own Limoncello, twenty minutes.”
The product Kyrejko’s referring to is called Technical Reserve, a game-changing high-proof alcohol that represents the Sunset Park distillery’s latest spirited venture. Gazing into that stubby little bottle of clear liquid, I could see the future, a future in which even the tiniest of Brooklyn kitchens could be magically transformed into an artisanal cocktail bar, with delicate herb scented liqueurs and fanciful fruit-based concoctions.
“Yesterday I made cocktails for a picnic,” Kyrejko says, standing behind a small bar stashed in a corner of his distillery’s massive loft. “A grapefruit cocktail and a ginger cocktail, both really flavorful. I was able to infuse all of my herbs in ten or fifteen minutes, and it’s because of this stuff.”
Sound too good to be true? Up until about four months ago, it was. Technical Reserve is, er, technically the very first alcohol of its ilk available on a consumer level. And at 191.2 proof and 96.5 percent alcohol, my first question was, of course, how is this stuff even legal?
“Well, it took me some time,” Kyrejko explains. “I talked back and forth to the TTB quite a bit, so it’s not like we just slipped it through the system. We made sure we had our bases covered–a flammable liquid warning on the label, everything like that. This is the first time ever that this is available to people without a license.”
While home distilling is definitely illegal without a permit, using Technical Reserve to make an at home supply of botanical rich cold-pressed gin is more akin to homebrewing or even baking–you’re simply experimenting with mixing quantities of normal, household ingredients.
“As long as you’re not heating it up and cooling it down for distilling, it’s totally legal,” Kyrejko reassures me. “It’s really a tool. It was designed as a tool for creative people. People who aren’t creative aren’t going to know what the fuck to do with it or they’re going to light it on fire, you know? Which is why the bottle says, DO NOT LIGHT THIS ON FIRE.”
If you’re thinking Everclear, stop right there–in both taste and chemical composition, Technical Reserve couldn’t be farther away from that backwoods throat burner. Like everything else at The City Foundry, Technical Reserve is a product of a passion for knowledge, an artistic mind and lots of nerdy science. Distilled from beet sugar using a unique, energy efficient process that relies upon Industry City’s hand built, supremely rad looking glass fractionating stills, Technical Reserve is an extremely refined and undiluted spirit. It’s at once immensely potent in strength and shockingly neutral in taste.
“Everclear is 190 proof, so sometimes people say, ‘Oh, this is only 1.2 percent more! That’s really close!’ But, chemically, they are worlds apart. Chemically, this is ethanol distilled at its azeotrope, not just generic ‘alcohol’. Ethanol is the most bio assimilable form of alcohol–it’s what you can get drunk and not feel like shit the next day, and that’s definitely not Everclear,” Kyrejko says, unscrewing the cap and holding the bottle up to my nose. “If you just smell this, you’ll notice that it doesn’t smell like rubbing alcohol. It can’t–there’s no rubbing alcohol (isopropanol) present.”
While the guys at Industry City are a small outfit with limited marketing power, they’re confident in their product’s ability to sustainably charm all sorts of interested consumers. After just a few months on the shelves, Technical Reserve’s growing market is already rife with crafty home mixologists, specialty cocktail bars and even restaurants.
“A restaurant could buy a bottle like this and make really delicate extractions of flowers and stuff, have it ready fresh before service. You can’t use vodka to make a flower extraction — the water destroys the flowers. But this has no water in it. You take peppercorns, throw it in here, extract the peppercorns–and the peppercorns will come out dry, they won’t swell up and they won’t get bitter. You know Booker & Dax in the East Village? This is their secret weapon. You don’t read about it, but this is what they use in a lot of their limited edition cocktails.”
Kyrejko, also a talented homebrewer, sees Technical Reserve’s revolutionary powers extending to the brewing industry, especially in a resource-strapped environment like New York City.
“There’s a lot of really strong flavors out there that brewers want to use in recipes. But what they wind up doing is throwing sage or rosemary or thyme into the boil or into the fermenter, and then it’s a crapshoot,” he reasons. “What they could do instead is make an incredibly concentrated tincture using Technical Reserve and then just take a pint glass of mild, base beer and, with an eyedropper, do one drop for twelve ounces, stir, drink it. More? Two drops per twelve ounces, and so on.”
With its Dr. Bronner’s level of endless applications, Technical Reserve appears to be a 21st century magic potion for the booze-inclined. So why the chemistry class-influenced name?
“My nerdy sentiments,” says Kyrejko with a smile. “Technical because it was designed as a tool, it’s for technical purposes only. Reserve because, well, we actually had a talk with the TTB about it–they’re like, ‘Generally when you put reserve on the bottle it means you’ve kept it for awhile and it’s special.’ And I said, ‘It is. It is special.’”
He goes on, screwing the top back on a jar of vanilla beans immersed in deep brown liquid. “We’re obsessed about this. The process that we do, this factional process where we hand select individual bottles is so ridiculous for what we’re doing. Alcohol is not considered a valuable product, industrially. It’s considered almost garbage. And we’re treating it like it’s gold.”