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Brooklyn beer-wine-liquor tours kick off on Father’s Day

By Mary Frost

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

WILIAMSBURG — Wondering what to get dad for Father’s Day? A Brewery-Winery-Distillery Tour, which kicks off in Williamsburg Father’s Day Sunday, June 17, might be the ticket.

Much has been written about the return of beer brewing to Brooklyn, but n recent years both wine and liquor have staged a comeback as well. There are now three wineries and more than half a dozen distilleries turning out their own small batches of liquid gold.

The Urban Oyster walking company says that Williamsburg is “ground zero for the craft booze movement.” Participants will get private tours, learn how the potent liquids are made, pick up a little history and — most importantly — enjoy a tasting at each stop. (Lunch is included to make sure that dad stays upright.)

“If I were a father, this is what I’d want my kids to get me for Father’s Day,” said Urban Oyster owner David Naczycz.

Tickets are $65 and must be ordered in advance at urbanoyster.com.

Brooklyn’s boozy history

Brooklyn’s history is inextricably linked with beer, wine and the hard stuff. The borough was once home to 48 breweries, including such famous brands as Rheingold and Schaefer. America’s most popular wine in the early 20th century, “Virginia Dare,” was made in Brooklyn.

During the 1800s the city was packed with distilleries, some owned by wealthy New Yorkers like the Livingstons, who operated a rum distillery at the foot of Joralemon Street in Brooklyn Heights. Other highbrow distillers included the Lefferts family and Hezekiah Pierrepont, who bought the Livingstons' distillery and founded Anchor Gin.

According to the Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklynology website, one of the city’s most venerable distilleries belonged to Cunningham and Harris, at the corner of Main and Washington Streets in present-day DUMBO. Others were located in Gowanus and Wallabout.

Numerous stills were owned by poor Irish immigrants in Brooklyn’s Vinegar Hill. Their avoidance of liquor excise taxes led to the “Whiskey War” of 1869 — where roughly 1,500 infantry battled local distillers in the streets and smashed the “illegal” stills being operated in the neighborhood. The government’s campaign was called “a hideous nightmare” by the Brooklyn Eagle of the day, which considered the small distiller businesses generally good for the economy.

A modern-day rebellion was deflected in New York just yesterday when the state restored a tax break for small beer brewers. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature not only restored the per-gallon tax exemption, they also wrote in new measures that will allow craft brewers to sell some products from their own retail outlets.

"Brooklyn Brewery is completing a $12 million dollar expansion and we're proud to contribute to the economic growth of our city, our state and the craft beer industry," said Steve Hindy, one of the founders of the Brooklyn Brewery. Hindy said the loss of the exemption threatened its work force and prices "just as we're trying to attract a larger group of consumers."

June 14, 2012 - 10:15am


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