By CECILY MCANDREWS, Special To The Courant
The Hartford Courant
May 4, 2014
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — The sign said "Pie," or, more specifically, "Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pie," but the smoky smell said barbecue.
Despite the fact that we were on a booze tour, walking between local distilleries, not a pie-and-barbecue tour, these things need attending to. So we followed. At the end of the street, smoke poured out of a giant drum, leaking the smell of slowly cooking meat, while we nibbled on Steve's chocolate-covered mini key lime pies on a stick. It was indeed authentically delicious, even if New York Harbor lapped on the shore, not the Caribbean Ocean. A guy in a beat-up sedan, Rolling Stones blaring from the windows, showed up, started moving meat around on the grill and affably answered our questions: "It's brisket, and it's for Hometown Bar-B-Que, a restaurant around the corner."
Dinner plans: sorted.
We moved on to the next stop on our tour, in time to snag one more drink before the sunset.
Red Hook inspires these types of encounters. Part of New York's most populous borough of Brooklyn, it has quiet cobblestone streets and the raffish feel of a seaside town that's seen better days. It was also, previously, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in New York. The neighborhood improved, and then Hurricane Sandy came along to kick it in the teeth two years ago.
Still, it's the sort of neighborhood that doesn't give up, and one industry in particular has been essential on getting it back on its feet: The makers of liquor, beer and wine came for the cheap space and stayed for the camaraderie. Luckily, visitors can snag a little of this warmth and some beverages on a self-guided walking tour, which spans less than a mile and covers four delightful (and delightfully different) spots.
Jack From Brooklyn, 117 Dwight St
When blogger and self-described author/entrepreneur Jackie Summers had a major health scare a few years ago, he settled on a new motto: "Do things that matter with people you care about."
The product of this revelation and his company Jack from Brooklyn is a version of a drink from his Caribbean upbringing. "My parents came from Barbados in the 1920s, and when I was growing up, there was always a pitcher of sorrel, a type of hibiscus tea, in the kitchen. After the kids were in bed, the adults would put a splash of rum in it." In their honor, he made a spicy, sweet, ruby-red liqueur called Sorel.
The site is the least formal of all the distilleries, with bottling happening feet away, but it's worth knocking on the door. If someone is around, they'll let you look around and taste a sip. Never fear, the next stop is just around the corner. Information: Open 1 to 4 p.m. weekends; 718-522-3172.
Van Brunt Stillhouse, 6 Bay St.
Daric Schlesselman, the distiller, also comes from corporate America, but he still has his day job, and it's much cooler than most: He's a video editor at "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart''. The weekends are all about his craft liquors, though. He makes rum, moonshine and four types of whiskey.
For those who want to come away from a tour edified as well as fortified, Schlesselman is the ideal guide. If you'd like to know how moonshine differs from whiskey (it's un-aged), how long his rum ages (about 16 months), or why the still is named Carl (even though the name is stamped on the front of the machine, it isn't really named Carl — that's just the name of the company that manufactures it — but I still like to think otherwise) At the end, you taste the product of all that meticulous distilling. The tasting includes three samples of the various types of liquor he makes, and, of course, you can buy a bottle.
Information: Open 1 to 5 p.m. weekends, with $8 tours at 2 and 4 p.m.; (718) 852-6405; vanbruntstillhouse.com.
Cacao Prieto, 218 Conover St.
At this point, you might be ready for a snack. Follow the scent of New York Harbor (more pleasant than you'd think), because Cacao Prieto, maker of both liquor and chocolates, is just two blocks away from it.
The chocolates are scrumptious, and the liquor (particularly the cacao liqueur) irresistible, but the space alone is enough to draw you in. Massive glass doors open up to a cavernous brick space, where a tall copper still gleams and orderly barrels line up opposite the counter. Glass windows at the exterior look out onto a courtyard where a tree grows. During the summer you might spot some chickens running around. If there's a better place to sip chocolate-flavored liqueur, I haven't found it.
Information: Open 11-7 weekends; tasting flights cost $10; 347-225-0130; cacaoprieto.com.
Red Hook Winery, 175-204 Van Dyke St.
We discovered Steve's Authentic Pies while searching for the Red Hook Winery, and we could be excused the detour. First, the pies are just too tempting, and second, the winery is a little hard to find. Follow the signs leading you around a big brick warehouse, and on the southern side of the building, suddenly you see big windows and a door to Red Hook Winery. You're here. Pull up a glass.
Unlike the other spots, there are big comfy couches here—welcome after an afternoon on your feet--or you can stand and perch glasses on one of the massive barrels standing as tables. Either way, friendly and knowledgeable staff walk you through the wine selection. All the grapes are grown in New York, either in the finger lakes region or on Long Island. Two Napa winemakers, Abe Schoener and Robert Foley, teamed up with a Brooklyn native, Mark Snyder, to make the wines, and they're not afraid to make wackier ones, like skin-fermented whites.
It's easy to while away an hour or two here, contemplating dinner. Brisket, anyone?
Information: Open 11-5 daily; $5 for a sampling of 3 wines, or $12 for a choice of 6 reserve wines, or $15 for a tour and a tasting of 5 wines; 347-689-2432; www.redhookwinery.com.
For brunch: The Good Fork, 391 Van Brunt St. www.goodfork.com.
For dessert or coffee: Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pies, 185 Van Dyke St., stevesauthentic.com/wpnew; Baked, 359 Van Brunt St., bakednyc.com
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