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Brewing booze goes local

New Yorkers love their booze, especially when the hard stuff is made right around the corner.

The economy may be flagging, but New Yorkers' love of booze is keeping one burgeoning industry alive and well: craft liquor distilleries.

King's County Distillery, Greenhouse Ginsmiths, Cacao Prieto and Van Brunt Stillhouse are just a few of the distilleries in town producing everything from rum and vodka to grappa and even moonshine. All of them are based -- where else -- in Brooklyn, in formerly abandoned industrial spaces.

"These distilleries are a great thing for New York; it's definitely an area of growth potential for the economy," said Jonathan Bowles, executive director at the Center for an Urban Future.

These days, it's not unusual to hear of people brewing their own beer. But it's less common to find someone making their own whiskey, as Williamsburg resident Colin Spoelman once did. Spoelman, 33, started making moonshine on his Williamsburg back porch in 2007.

But he went legit in 2010, with the opening of King's County Distillery, a moonshine and bourbon distillery that operates out of the Brooklyn Navy Yards.

"The state has been very active in the past three, four years in supporting this young distilling industry," he said.

New Yorkers' love of local extends to hard alcohol

Bowles said that craft distilleries appeal to New Yorkers' appreciation for products that are fresher and more unique.

In fact, buying local pays off for the distilleries themselves. In recent years, the licensing process has gotten a bit easier for craft distilleries that source the majority of their ingredients from within New York State.

For example, Steven D'Angelo at Greenhook Ginsmiths is producing a deep purple gin flavored with beach plum. The product is similar to the familiar sloe gin, but uses beach plums from Long Island. Beach plums are a significant part of New York's history: D'Angelo noted that early North American explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano talked about the abundance of beach plums in the New York area way back in 1524.

At Cacao Prieto, which produces bourbon and rum out of Red Hook, the whiskey made there has a particularly interesting local ingredient: water mined from the Widow Jane limestone mine under owner Daniel Prieto Presto's property in upstate Rosendale, N.Y.

It's called sweet water due to its taste, resulting from its high mineral content, he said.

"Using sweet water means it remains a completely organic process," Preston said.

How to brew
your own beer

Sorry, folks: Home distilling of hard alcohol is illegal, according to New York State law.

"It's one of the only felonies still left on the books with the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau)," said Alex Clark at Cacao Prieto.

But don't worry, thirsty New Yorkers. It's legal to make all the homemade craft beer you want. To help you get started with your own DIY craft beer brewing, Brooklynite Sebastian Schinkel, who makes his own beer, outlined the steps of what he calls "a relatively simple process."

1. Add brewing grains, typically malted barley and wheat, to hot water.

2. Steep in order to extract fermentable and non-fermentable sugars.

3. Remove grains from water. The water is now called "wort."

4. Bring wort to a boil, add hops. Note: Adding the hops earlier in the process means more bitterness, adding the hops later means more flavor and aroma.

5. Chill wort to room temperature; transfer to a sanitized, sealable container or jug.

6. Add yeast; seal container with a sanitized airlock.

7. After fermentation is complete, add a small amount of sucrose and transfer to bottles.

8. Cap the bottles and in just two weeks, you have homemade beer!