Fort Hamilton Distillery: Reviving America’s original whiskey and fostering community
By Fort Hamilton Distillery
It’s a typical Thursday at Industry City and Nica Mayer is perched at her regular spot in front of the bar at Fort Hamilton Distillery, sipping an amber cocktail. She has come for happy hour, as she often does, with her colleagues, who all work two buildings down. There are plates of Hometown Barbecue between them, ordered from just downstairs. A couple is hunched over one of the two pool tables, free for customers, eyeing their next shot.
“My big quote is, ‘I’ll have an Old Pal, old pal,’ just because it’s my favorite drink,” says Mayer. “I started coming to Fort Hamilton to take a work break. So we’d get a ‘Mad Men’ drink. And then I became friends with the bartenders here, and then with the owners. It was really nice to just have that community.”
Rooted in history
That sense of rootedness is at the very core of Fort Hamilton Distillery’s origin story. In 2016, Alex Clark and Amy Grindeland launched their signature New York rye, made exactly as it was distilled 200 years ago, using 100 percent New York grains and malted barley sourced from the Hudson Valley. To take a sip of it is to taste history, the original American spirit. To take a sip of it is to bring back something that had been lost.
“Historically, it was the original whiskey of America,” Clark said on a recent episode of “Brooklyn Magazine: The Podcast.” “The real driving force behind launching the Fort Hamilton Distillery was to reeducate, if you will, the American consumer on the beauty of rye whiskey.”
Since its founding, Fort Hamilton has also launched a bourbon, and more recently a gin distilled with cucumber and watermelon — inspired by the Battle of Brooklyn, which started in a watermelon patch one block from their distillery.
A contagious passion
But Fort Hamilton Distillery is more than just a maker of fine spirits. Its home base in Industry City is a hive of activity. The distillery offers tours on the weekends, Detroit-style pizza pop-ups on Fridays; they host events and parties, and they pour you a mean cocktail. There are also New York-based beers and wines on offer for those who want to go a little easier, as well as a list of thoughtful and delicious mocktails.
“It’s one of those things where you go for one cocktail and I end up here for three cocktails,” says Mayer. “It’s just become a mainstay for me.”
The cocktail menu is itself extensive and well curated, anchored by their signature Maple Old Fashioned, made with Fort Hamilton’s own organic New York maple syrup — aged to perfection in Brooklyn Bourbon Barrels and walnut bitters. It is, quite simply, the perfect drink of the season. (So, for that matter, is the old school hot toddy. Then there’s the Sazerac. Or the … You get the picture.)
“You can come and taste the spirits and learn and be like, ‘Oh, that’s great. I want to make that cocktail at home,’” says Grindeland. Which is exactly the point: Buy a bottle or a recipe kit and take it with you — either for yourself or as a gift.
“All the recipes that we serve are on our website. We make it very easy for people — if you’re a cocktail learner or new to the game — to be a part of it.”
That feeling of being connected to something extends to the almost comically friendly staff at the distillery. You’ll get no cocktail snobbery here, just pure enthusiasm.
“The passion is very contagious,” says bartender Kenny Tom, as much a fixture at Fort Hamilton as its spirits. “I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Fort Hamilton Distillery is located in Industry City at 68 34th St Building 6, 2nd Floor. It is open Sunday to Wednesday 1 to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday 1 to 9 p.m. (718) 678-5103.