Craft Distillery Comes To Queens

Photo/Courtesy of Queens Courage

Photo/Courtesy of Queens Courage

Nothing beats a cold cocktail on a hot summer day. Well, for fans of mixology, the “World’s Borough,” has finally inspired a drink as unique
as Queens itself.

Introducing Queens Courage, a refined interpretation of Old Tom gin—a clear spirit popular in the 1800’s, before Prohibition—craft-brewed in Astoria. Unlike the more popular variations of gin—such as “New American” and the standard “London Dry”—Old Tom provides a sweeter taste, smooth enough to drink neat, mixed or on the rocks.

“A lot of classic cocktail books call for Old Tom gin,” Christopher Murillo, founder of the Astoria Distillery, said. “It’s crazy that one of the key tools that bartenders need isn’t being produced. Queens Courage is an Old Tom gin that would work well with these classic cocktails.”

This story originally appeared in the Queens Tribunes annual Dining Guide.

Christopher Murillo, founder of the Astoria Distillery.

Christopher Murillo, founder of the Astoria Distillery.

Murillo said the inspiration to distill and distribute a craft spirit of his very own, first came to him after drinking a few cocktails on New Year’s Eve back in 2011. Later that year, he began visiting local distilleries to learn everything there is to know about the craft spirit business.

“By April 2012, I decided to either stop thinking about it or start doing something about it,” Murillo said. “So, I quit my job as a lawyer and decided to go into this head first.”

That same month, the first batch of Queens Courage was distilled and bottled.

“We are on the cusp of a distilling revolution,” he said. “It’s like what has happened with beer over the last 20 to 30 years. This first wave of craft distillers… passionate people making wonderful products.”

For Murillo, this is a labor of love, putting all of his time and effort into making sure Queens Courage is crafted to perfection. Using pure New York honey—some of which comes from City rooftops—malt and grapefruit, Queens Courage is carefully crafted to impart both a subtlety sweet and bitter taste.

Its unique flavor and approach already earned Queens Courage a 96-point rating at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge, putting it in the “extraordinary, ultimate recommendation” category—the challenge’s highest rank.

“Other spirits are like steak or roasted chicken. What you’re trying to do is get the most flavor of the meat you’re cooking,” he said. “[Gin is] more like French or Japanese cuisine… a lot of thought is given to balance and proportion.”

Through the guidance of distilling consultant Jordan Via, the master distiller at Breckenridge Distillery in Colorado, Murillo was able to formulate and test the first few batches at an undisclosed location in Upstate New York.

Once the finished product was bottled and ready to sell, Murillo hopped on his bicycle and travelled around to some of the local bars and liquor store in Astoria and Long Island City to show off his first batch of craft gin.

“The response was so great,” said Murillo. “In two-to-three months we went from distributing on the back of my bike to a multistate distributor.”

Teaming up with Verity Wine Partners, a multistate wine distributor that also wanted to branch out into the spirits market, the Astoria Distilling Company went from expecting to make $25,000 worth of sales to over six-figures worth of sales in the first month, according to Murillo.

The Astoria Distilling Company continues to operate out of a business incubator run by the Queens Economic Development Corporation, a nonprofit that helps provide small businesses and innovators with capital and space to launch their companies.

While only a portion of the production is based in the Borough that bears its name, Murillo said he hopes to open the first distillery in Queens since Prohibition, sometime at the end of the year.

Once in operation, the distillery will focus predominantly on its Gin, however, Murillo said he would like to expand their product portfolio to include a premium version of ouzo, a classic Greek spirit, which he hopes will celebrate the rich Greek community in Astoria.

“We’re really excited about developing a homegrown version of ouzo that is at the ultra premium level,” Murillo said. “The scope is almost limitless. We can pull from all over the world, because the world is in our backyard.”

Queens Courage is currently available at the following liquor stores and bars:

• 36th Avenue Wine & Spirits (Astoria) • Astoria Wines & Liquors (Astoria) • Wine Stop (Astoria) • Happy Liquor Store (Astoria) • Lowery Liquors (Sunnyside) • Grand Wines & Liquors (LIC) • Absolute Wine & Spirits (Astoria) • Crescent Wines & Spirits (Astoria) • Court Square Wine & Spirits (LIC) • KH&H Liquors (LIC) • 5 Star Wine & Liquor (Woodside) • Omega Wines & Spirits (Astoria) • Astoria Park Wine And Spirits (Astoria) • Mundo at the Paper Factory Café (LIC) • Mar’s (Astoria) • The Astor Room (Astoria) • Sweet Afton (Astoria) • William Hallet (Astoria) • Bourbon and Vine (Astoria) • Blackbird’s (Astoria) • Fatty’s Café (Astoria) • The Sparrow (Astoria) • Casa Del Chef (Woodside) • The LetLove Inn (Astoria)