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1640 - 1791

The Colonial Era

The story of distilling in New York begins in 1640, when the first commercial distillery in North America was built on Staten Island. The Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam (as New York was then called) distilled a new-world version of Dutch Genever, a grain-based gin infused with local botanicals like hops and juniper berries. The rich, egalitarian tavern culture of the Dutch flourished in New Amsterdam and an intimate connection between agricultural life and distilling culture emerged.

After the British took over the American colonies, rum became more prominent. In some measure, it can be argued that the Revolution was fought because the of the sugar tax imposed by the British on the emergent American rum business. After independence, whiskey became the American spirit and was so vital to farm life that, when a whiskey tax was imposed in 1791, this time by the fledgling American government, it sparked the violent Whiskey Rebellion.

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1802 - 1919

The Golden Age

The whiskey tax was repealed in 1802, beginning the Golden Age of New York distilling. Farm distilleries proliferated by the hundreds across the state. In New York City, rum producers grew next to sugar refineries, and whiskey producers popped up throughout Brooklyn to quench the growing city’s thirst for liquor.

The outbreak of the Civil War, and its associated expenses, led to the reinstatement of the whiskey tax. Now the tax was so high that it drove many distillers underground. As a result, New York City produced more moonshine (illicit alcohol) than the entire South combined, despite the South’s reputation as the center of moonshine production during this era.

By the 1880s, an era of big-business trusts emerged, and distilling was no exception. Large, nationwide business interests forced the closure of most of New York’s legal distilleries. The few that remained were in or near Buffalo, a major grain terminus.

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1920 - 1933

Prohibition

Prohibition began in 1920 and by the time it was repealed at the end of 1933, America’s legal distilling industry was all but crippled. Only the states that had been the center of the distilling monopolies still had a viable distilling infrastructure. Whole traditions and methodologies of American distilling were lost forever, including those of the New York State distillers.

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2004 - The Present

Contemporary Distilling

In 2004, a handful of distilling pioneers worked with the state to draft the law enabling distilleries to return. Today there are, once again, hundreds distilleries operating in New York State and we are now in the midst of a distilling renaissance.

As in the Colonial Era and the Golden Age, many of these distilleries are using predominantly New York State fruit, botanicals and grains. And, as in those eras, the producers themselves are brilliant, idiosyncratic, larger-than-life characters and modern day examples of that same adventurous spirit of the state of New York.