Van Brunt Stillhouse: Handmade, Hometown Spirits


In an inconspicuous warehouse, nestled down the street from Ikea in Red Hook, Brooklyn is newly up and at ‘em Van Brunt Stillhouse. Part of a growing trend in handmade local spirits, the distillery’s first label — Due North Rum — came to market in early May.

Inside the shop, oak barrels line the floor and just-filled bottles of rum await their turn at the DIY bottling station. Bursting with the spirit of entrepreneurship, Daric Schlesselman, owner and craft distiller at Van Brunt Stillhouse, takes meticulous care to ensure every batch comes out just right. Following in the footsteps of Tuthilltown Spirits, which, in 2001, opened the first legal distillery in New York since Prohibition, he aims to bring back the rich traditions of well-made spirits. “In the 20th century, the factory/mass-produced mentality caused us to lose sight of handmade things and processes,” said Schlesselman. “I’m staying focused on making the best spirits I can and selling in New York City.”

Schlesselman’s historical influences are evident all over. Named in honor of Cornelius Van Brunt, an early settler and pioneer of what’s now Brooklyn, the distillery has its roots in the Old World. Try impressing your friends with this fancy tidbit (which just so happens to be the origin of the rum’s namesake): Sailors on the high seas used to rate the quality of their rum rations by cardinal directions. “Westerly” meant watery, for example. But after a particularly tough battle, the captain would give out pure rum as a reward — described by the sailors as “due north,” hence Due North Rum, the best you can get.

An exciting time to explore and grow the business, Schlesselman takes each day as it comes. His sights are set high with big plans ahead. “[Next] spring I’m hoping to have the proper licenses in hand to open our tasting room and to have regular tours,” he said. In the meantime, check out for more information and a list of local retailers. While the golden rum is first on the shelves, a small quantity of grappa is in the works and should be in select stores this fall. He’s shooting for spring 2013 for the Van Brunt whiskey, but visit the website for updates.

To whet your palate, here are a few recipe recommendations from the craft distiller himself. All three recipes come from or are adapted from Dale Degroff’s “The Craft of the Cocktail.”

2 oz. Due North Rum
1/2 oz. Orange Curacao
3/4 oz. Lemon Juice
8 Raspberries
Muddle 7 raspberries with lemon juice and curacao in mixing glass. Add rum and shake well with ice. Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with raspberry.

Due North Manhattan
2 oz. Due North Rum
1 oz. Dry Vermouth
2 Dashes Bitter Truth Creole Bitters
Cherry for Garnish
Pour rum, vermouth, and bitters over ice in a mixing glass and stir. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with cherry.

Papa Doble
1 1/2 oz. Due North
1/4 oz. Maraschino Liqueur
1/2 oz. Fresh Grapefruit Juice
3/4 oz. Simple Syrup
3/4 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

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