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Red Hook Grappa Maker Ushers New Liquor to Market

By Alan Neuhauser | November 27, 2012 8:48am

RED HOOK — The Brooklyn distillery owned by "Daily Show" editor Daric Schlesselman launched its second liquor earlier this month: Red Hook Grappa, made from grapes grown on Long Island and the Finger Lakes region upstate.

"It's an acquired taste for some. But for people who are wine drinkers, it's an interesting variation on the flavors that happen in wine," said Schlesselman, 45, the owner of Van Brunt Stillhouse in Red Hook.

Grappa, he described, is a "wine-maker's whiskey," made from grapes that have already been crushed to produce wine. The skins are steamed and essentially "redistilled," producing a clear liquor with a strong and unique taste.

"It's a great after-dinner drink. It's something that people generally drink straight-up, in a small glass, to enjoy as they digest their meal," Schlesselman described.

The distillery, located on Bay Street just four blocks from the waterfront, escaped Hurricane Sandy largely unscathed, he said. The storm, however, crippled transit and caused power outages across the city, which made getting the grappa and Van Brunt Stillhouse's inaugural spirit, Due North Rum, into liquor stores and restaurants a challenge.

"We've definitely taken a big hit in retail," Schelsselman said. "The storm came in a peak time for getting our products into stores for the holidays."

The stillhouse missed about two weeks of distribution, he said — a loss that is difficult to quantify because this marks Van Brunt's first year of production. Nevertheless, Schlesselman remained upbeat.

"We were fortunate," he said.

Van Brunt Stillhouse is producing two types of grappa, each named simply Red Hook Grappa, but with different labels on their respective bottlenecks. The first, available at Dry Dock Wine and Spirits in Red Hook and Goat Town restaurant in the East Village, was produced about a year ago from merlot grapes crushed for wines produced by Red Hook Winery. The second, made from pino blanc grapes from Lieb Cellars on Long Island, started production about two months ago.

Schlesselman said he expects both grappas to reach more store shelves soon.