When it comes to impressing the palate, vodka is not exactly our booze. We usually need to mask its odourless, neutral taste with sugary mixers like cranberry juice and Redbull. Well, vodka lovers and not- so -vodka lovers, here’s good news! This is the story of five Brooklyn nerds, the founders of Industry City Distillery, who have successfully attempted to improve the taste of vodka by combining biology, physics, chemistry and engineering in their distillery venture. These young men are David Kyrejko, 28, Peter Simon, 25, Zac Bruner, 27, Max Hames, 28, and Rich Watts, 27. The Industry City Distillery got national press attention when Forbes included its founders in the magazine’s ’30 under 30′ Group of Entrepreneurs To Watch.
What will surprise you is that the men behind the ICD had no background in alcohol. David Kyrejko built aquatic ecosystems; Zac Bruner ran a machine shop; Rich Watts was a graphic designer; Max Hames worked as a commercial fisherman in Alaska; and Peter Simon was a yoga teacher. Kyrejko initially introduced the idea and brought on his classmate Watts, who graduated with him from a Manhattan school. Then Bruner, a long time friend of Kyrejko, joined them, and Simon came in after serving Kyrejko coffee one day. Hames got into the mix through a friend of a friend.
The ICD team released it’s first vodka, Batch No. 1, after a few months in operation. They shared it with family and friends who supported their venture, and set about producing more versions of their alcohol that would eventually sell and make profit. Their final product, The Industry Standard Vodka, claims to be “fantastic” in both neat and in cocktails. According to the founders, ” On tasting, light florals open up into a warm, smooth flavor and finish with delicious fruit notes, hints of vanilla and a touch of spice.” Okay, that sounds mouth- watering enough! The 750 ml bottle sells for $ 35.
It is easy to lump the ICD together with other micro- distilleries that have cropped up in Brooklyn over the last few years. In 2007, the then- governor Eliot Spitzer passed the Farm Distillery Law, which cut annual licensing fees for micro- distilleries in New York state from $50,000 to $15,000. This reduction facilitated low- budget start- ups. What distinguishes the ICD team is that their vodka enterprise is only their short term goal. Once they have succeeded in making a superior ethanol, they would move on to other things that might not include alcohol at all. They want to use their profit money for other scientific endeavors.
Traditionally, vodka is made by distilling potatoes or fermented grains. However, the ICD uses beets, because, as Kyrejko explains, it uses land more efficiently, requiring less space and water to grow. Water and homogeneous yeast is added to beets for fermentation. Large- scale vodka distilleries employ huge stainless steel tanks in which products are combined and stirred for fermentation. But the ICD team uses a set of bio-reactors, because, as Simon explains, the bio-reactors work eight times faster than a standard fermentation tank, and also decreases the risk of contamination.
The ICD’s distillation method is also unique. At traditional distilleries, vodka is heated in large copper stills. The components of vodka heat up at different temperatures, and usually the distillers separate into three sections, known as the heads, the hearts and the tails. The ICD practices ‘Batch Fractional Distillation’ whereby using another glass tube, the vodka is separated into 40 sections rather than just three. After eliminating the heads and tails, they are still left with dozens of bottles. Each bottle contains its own peculiar flavor, which represents the chemical components that boil gradually as the heat is raised. The team then blends together their favorite flavors to produce the final product, dismissing any bottle that tastes bad.
This talented gang has made its product available at around 20 stores in the U.S., selling about 40,000 bottles. With their ingenuity and determination to excel, these nerds are a potential threat to big corporate brands.