Christopher Buckley likes to drink. And, as the owner of two fantastic Brooklyn Bars—Hanson Dry in Clinton Hill and Branch Ofc in Crown Heights—he noticed something about drinkers that he wanted to fix. “People don’t know how to order what they want, because they don’t know what they like,” said Buckley. “I want to help people take responsibility for their own drinks.”
In “Behind the Pine”—classes that Buckley will offer weekly at Branch Ofc—he unravels the mystery behind a spirit or a little pocket of cocktail culture; his first class was all about the Hot Toddy, and his next, “Something on the Side,” will cover garnishes. This week, Buckley invited two Brooklyn distillers, New York Distilling Company and Breuckelen Distilling, to his class who, together with Buckley, taught eager drinkers all about a spirit that typically gets short shrift: gin.
Yes, we hear you–fall and gin don’t make obvious fast friends, and gin certainly hasn’t enjoyed the same love lately as darker colored spirits, but Buckley’s Monday class changed some minds; gin can be so much more than an odd-man-out liquor reserved for your G&T or Negroni. When aged, it can even turn dark too.
As much as Buckley is anxious to teach classes about spirits (both unloved and beloved), he’s also an eager student. So eager, in fact, that when he scored New York Distilling Company head distiller Bill Potter, and Breuckelen distiller Gino Di Stefano to co-lead his class on Monday, he got a little star-struck.
“Bill and Gino are like the Katy Perry of the gin world,” said Buckley enthusiastically. “When I was on the phone with them, I had to go into the bathroom and like turn on the sink so no one could hear me talking.”
Bill and Gino shared vast knowledge about the history of gin (it has a deadly history—around 300 years ago in England, gin was deregulated to thwart the sale of French brandy, and home distillers unknowingly concocted lethal batches), and patiently fielded questions from the lay-crowd
Me: “What, technically, is a spirit?”
Gino: Anything that contains sugar, or starch that can be converted to sugar (like wheat or corn) that is fermented, distilled to concentrate the alcohols, and separated into bad and good (Ethanol) alcohol.
Me: And gin itself?
Bill: Any spirit, undefined, redistilled with juniper, and then any other thing you care to add like lemon or rosemary or grapefruit. No other spirit can be as diversely expressed and remain itself.
In addition to Breuckelen’s Glorious Gin and New York Distilling Company’s Perry Tot’s Navy strength Dry, Buckley sampled London Dry Gin and a fourth honey-flavored selection called Barhill. Afterward, Buckley served gin-based cocktails (alongside his favorite Halloween candy, Starbursts) and returned to the topic at hand: How he is seriously amped to help people figure out what alcoholic beverage they like–and, preferably, how to order it quickly when a crowd of 40 is waiting for him to make their drinks.
“I want people to conquer their fear so they can order whatever the fuck they want.” Buckley says as we eat his Starbursts and guzzle his Negronis at the end of class. “This is New York City in 2015. Order an Amaretto Sour if that makes you happy. Just be more informed about what you’re doing. It sucks to not get what you want.”
It sure does. But if you head to Branch Ofc, it’s pretty easy to find out what it is that you want and then get it from a man who very much wants to give it to you.