For whiskey fans making a stop in the Big Apple, now there’s a reason to go to Manhattan beyond its many whisky bars. Great Jones Distilling Co., said to be Manhattan’s first legal whiskey distillery since Prohibition, and its only active whiskey-making operation, opened in August 2021. The distillery’s restaurant, The Grid, serves dishes featuring Great Jones’s whiskeys—a bourbon, a rye, and a four-grain bourbon made with corn, malted barley, rye, and wheat—as a central ingredient.
The 28,000 square-foot, four-story space is the brainchild of Juan Domingo Beckmann, whose family owns Jose Cuervo tequila—along with Bushmills, Stranahan’s, Tin Cup, and Pendleton whiskies. The distillery has a 500-gallon copper pot still, housed in a two-story chamber perched on a floor that was lowered by five feet to comply with city ordinances.
No grain milling or whiskey aging takes place at the distillery—barrels are shipped to Black Dirt Distillery in Orange County, New York, which Cuervo’s international arm, Proximo Spirits, acquired in 2018. While the Manhattan-made spirit ages upstate, Great Jones’s bourbons and rye, which were distilled at Black Dirt, are available at the gift shop.
Building a distillery in Manhattan created unique challenges. “The six-year construction journey overcame rigid city regulations, centuries-old fire codes, and a global pandemic,” notes project manager Andrew Merinoff. But the struggle was worth it, says head distiller Celina Perez, who has worked at Black Dirt and Owney’s Rum in Brooklyn. The spirit coming off the still at Great Jones “has a lot of very floral notes, a lot of citrus,” Perez adds. “We’re running it on the cleaner side before we really start to play around. But having that artistic freedom to go out on a limb and have experimental grain bills is pretty extraordinary, especially on a still that’s so multifaceted.”
The still itself is attached to two 20-foot columns. One side has 12 plates for making vodka, “which I’m not sure we have any plans to do but is always an option,” Perez says. On the other side, “our whiskey column has eight plates in it…so we have the ability to make whiskey that is very clean at 160 proof. We also have the ability to cut out the column completely and just do a pot distillation, run it through a pot three times, and do something more akin to a scotch. We have the technology to manipulate the product to a very specific taste, depending on what we want in the final product.”
That versatility allows Perez to push the bounds of flavor in different directions. “I’ve been working on new product development, so I have various bourbons and ryes all ready to go,” she says. “We’re still in a startup year—we’ve only been producing here since July,” and the global supply chain crisis, coupled with a national truck driver shortage, has created logistical challenges. “But once we get stuff like that figured out, I’m definitely going to start making some cool bourbons, first off, and then after that, ryes.”