The Best New York Bourbons

Craft bourbon continues to roll, with distilleries popping up nationwide as Prohibition-era laws loosen. (In New York State, there are now more than 30 distilleries.) And if “Prohibition” sounds like something out of history class, think again. Well before that era, in 1825, the state boasted more than 1,000 small distilleries, and, during it, bootleggers hotfooted it across the county. By the end, only the giants survived—by making “licensed medicinal whiskey” regulated by distribution laws.

Only over the past decade or so have state laws opened the door for small-batch distillers by slashing the fee for licensing and allowing them to sell directly to consumers, provided they source at least half their material from New York. Still, “New York State whiskeys are no bargain,” says William Schragis, Zachys Wine & Liquor’s spirits specialist. “You’re buying a sense of place and a labor-intensive product made with high-cost local grain.”

Any Westchester bourbons? Not yet, but StillTheOne in Port Chester, our first post-Prohibition distillery, will probably start barreling some later this year, according to Distiller/Proprietor Ed Tiedge. Then there’s Twitter’s Westchester Bourbon (@BourbonMaker), which claims to be making “nano-batch bourbons from New York’s organic grains.” 

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Meanwhile, some of our bourbon geeks weigh in:

  • At RiverMarket Bar and Kitchen, co-owner Glenn Vogt likes Black Dirt Distillery, whose name refers to fertile soil left by receding glaciers. 
  • Pour’s Anthony Colasacco points to Finger Lakes Distilling’s McKenzie, darker bourbon finished in Chardonnay casks from surrounding wineries, and the bold, thick Delaware Phoenix from the Catskills. Pour offers New York bourbon-tasting flights (and is still the only place here to quaff the elusive Pappy Van Winkle).
  • Bar’Lees owner Colin Goundrey likes Widow Jane, made in Brooklyn with water from an upstate quarry whose limestone was used in the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal. 
  • William Schragis at Zachys likes Hillrock Estate Distillery and Kings County Distillery (where he worked briefly). 

If you want your local hooch in a cocktail, head to Bistro Rollin for the New Old-Fashioned, made with Kings County Distillery Bourbon, simple syrup, Tuthilltown Spirits Basement Bitters—and a splash of Pelham water. Can’t get more local than that. 

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