Stephanie Goebel and her business partner Owen Wright have lived in Downtown Brooklyn for more than 20 years, and recognizing a need for a wine and liquor store in the area, they opened their first shop in 2010. “At the time, you had to schlep to Brooklyn Heights or Fort Greene to get a bottle of wine,” she remembers.
Today, Wright & Goebel, situated a block from Brooklyn’s Ace Hotel on Livingston Street, focuses on low-additive wines that are farmed responsibly (think organic, biodynamic, and natural—no Yellowtail here). “We work with small-production wines, where farmers are true, honest, and respectful stewards of their land,” Goebel says. And although the shop does carry some of the big names in spirits, they try to bring in a craft selection made in small batches to preserve quality.
Wright & Goebel also aims to support local spirits and wineries that align with their philosophy and pass the taste test. Luckily, there are now plenty of bottles that fit the bill, as the New York distilling scene has exploded over the past 15 years.
Behind the craft cocktail boom
As Goebel explains it, the renaissance started in 2007, when the Farm Distillery Act became law and created a boom in the craft distilling scene across the nation. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo worked with the legislature to roll back, change, or eliminate outdated and archaic regulations that had held over from the Prohibition era. A revival in the classic cocktail movement followed.
“It was almost as if the Roaring ‘20s had a rebirth,” says Goebel. “You weren’t just a bartender, you were a mixologist now, behind the bar at some of the sleekest bars around town.”
Stylish bartenders shook herb-infused concoctions that put a dent in drinkers’ weekly budgets. Tasting rooms opened at distilleries. Small brands became noticed, so retail stores could sell them. Customers asked more questions and participated in making their own cocktails. It all “set the stage for a total revolution in the way we drink and the way we purchase our booze.”
On tap in New York now
Over the past two years, those trends have only continued, as more people have learned to make drinks at home during the pandemic with Zoom happy hours, cocktail classes, and wine tastings.
With attention to climate change, craft distillers are focusing more on sustainability, and working grains and ingredients without chemicals and pesticides. Take Matchbook Distilling, a New York-based spirits producer that works with local farms and makes spirits from surpluses that might otherwise go to waste. “I think it moves in a direction we need to be considering as consumers,” says Goebel.
New York’s star spirits
Here are Goebel’s local distilleries and craft spirit-makers to watch, plus standout picks to try.
Named after a botanist who created an herbal tonic to protect Europeans from the 15th-century plague, the Williamsburg-based Forthave crafts spirits that are natural, delicious, and inspired by history.
Taste: Marseille Amaro
Founded by former restaurateurs, this Brooklyn company makes organic Italian spirits using old-world methods, and sources from sustainable botanical producers. Don’t be surprised to see them on shelves at your favorite bars.
A decade ago the DeAngelo brothers decided to bring purity, flavor, and creativity to the American gin market, and their Greenpoint distillery continues to deliver on the promise.
Taste: American Dry Gin
The name says it all. This brand offers one product, made with fresh ginger—no extracts or chemicals, just big and bold flavor, handmade in Brooklyn.
This distillery in Greenport, New York is focused on research and development, dedicated to producing spirits that champion agriculture, anthropology, tradition, and science.