In Food + Drink

Visiting New York’s First Vodka Distillery Since Prohibition

Our/New York Vodka Distillery burst on to the New York City bar scene in mid-2018 as the first spirits distillery to open in Manhattan since Prohibition. No small feat, it took the Our/Vodka team over five years and 288 meetings with authorities to navigate the complex regulations of New York City to finally open the first legal distillery in over 100 years.

Located in Chelsea, Our/New York is managed by local skatewear entrepreneur and artist Dave Ortiz in partnership with Swedish parent company Our/Vodka.

“I was called in by someone from the Our/Vodka team who knew me as a brand builder and entrepreneur,” says Oritz. “I always thought it was a joke, but it turned out to be real.”

Our/New York vodka

Image: Our/New York / supplied

Real it was and the result is a neighbourhood bar and distillery that’s welcoming and unpretentious.

Growing up in East New York in the ’70s and ’80s, Ortiz was swept up in the graffiti and skate culture zeitgeist before developing parallel careers in the skatewear industry while simultaneously pursuing fine art.

When he was first approached for the collaboration, he thought it was too good to be true.

“Our/Vodka isn’t based on superficial brand ideas,” he says, “It’s based on real people combined with real expertise and I was immediately attracted by the opportunity to grow a brand that New Yorkers can really identify with.”

The bar has an industrial feel with viewing window into the distillery with its shiny copper pot stills. The spacious bar has zones to hang out, from comfortable leather couches to low tables and benches. Or prop yourself up at the wide bar and chat to the amiable bar staff.

Our/New York vodka

Image: Our/New York / supplied

“It’s a chilled non-pretentious cocktail lounge,” he says. “We all are nerds that only care about quality and we never think we are too cool for school. We just like doing what we do, and we are welcoming to all walks of life that come through our door.

“The music always changes. I personally like to play Latin Jazz, my GM plays rock ‘n roll and some of the younger bartenders like new school hip-hop and R&B we are all over the map just like New York.”

The Our/Vodka concept is to make small batch, high quality vodka in urban micro-distilleries around the world and give each a unique, local flavour. Every city follows the same global recipe but sources local ingredients to give Our/Vodka its unique expression, name and character. The vodka is partly distilled, blended in small batches and hand-bottled in small 375ml bottles onsite at the Chelsea micro-distillery.

Our/New York is a made from non-GMO corn-based spirit and is blended using New York City tap water for a vodka that is smooth, fresh and pure with a slight grain and fruity note.

Our/New York vodka

Image: Our/New York / supplied

On our visit, barman Paul suggests drinking Our/New York vodka either straight up over ice or trying their signature martini style cocktail featuring Our/New York Vodka, Vermouth, Fino Sherry, Orange Bitters and Olive. We opt for martinis and they’re smooth and sophisticated. We’re easily persuaded to purchase a twin pack of vodka, the perfect NYC souvenir and great addition to our global bar cart.

Visitors can learn about making Our/New York Vodka with a tour of the Manhattan distillery.

“We tell the brand story, how they found me and how we make vodka and the ingredients that make us stand out from all other vodkas,” says Ortiz. At the end of the 20-minute tour you can opt for a tasting of the limited 100-proof After Dark label Our/New York vodka, only available at the distillery.

Don’t like vodka? No to worry, the full-service bar offers New York-centric cocktails and beverages including rum and tequila-based cocktails, wine and local beer and cider.

Our/New York vodka

Image: Our/New York / supplied

“We aren’t a one trick pony,” says Ortiz. “If we only served vodka, ask yourself, really how many times would you want to go there? It was super important to me to have other small craft distillers at our bar. We are the little guy supporting the other little guy, but we carry a few of the big brands that people ask for so I would say it’s about a 80/20 split from local brands to New York to big spirit brands.”

The next step for Our/New York is to expand the food offering. “Right now, it’s free pizzas that my friend Ilan Hall [American Chef and winner of reality series Top Chef] designed for us.

“It’s a super cool recipe for a pizza on a tortilla with an amazing sauce, mozzarella, ricotta, fresh basil, Italian herbs and olive oil, but we are still looking to expand the food program.”

Our/New York Vodka is a bar & distillery with a global outlook and fresh, local vibe, which begs the question, are we likely to see Our/Vodka in Australia? Ortiz is tight-lipped but says, “I have my hands full with New York but it would be super cool to have one in Aussie land – just saying.”

(Lead images: Our/New York / supplied)

Published 09 May, 2019