Mixologist Blurs the Line Between Bartender and Distiller

Allen Katz is one of the latest in the spirit business to blur the line between bartender and distiller; in his case, he’s now both. The New York mixologist for Southern Wine and Spirits is now vice president and brand ambassador for New York Distilling, making two gins — Dorothy Parker American Gin Allen Katzand Perry’s Tot Navy Strength Gin — as well as other spirits and also has opened his own bar, The Shanty, where the spirits are served in Williamsburg, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Mix: Establishing a distillery is complicated enough, as is opening a bar. What emboldened you to tackle both at once?

Allen Katz: We were looking to take advantage of new laws in New York State that allow for a distillery and bar under a Class D Farmer Distiller’s license (the grains for our rye whiskey are sourced from New York State). As a startup, the opportunity to have the bar as an immediate source of revenue is very appealing. In addition, it gives us a great opportunity to showcase our products (and others that we love) in a natural bar setting. It is certainly added work but well worth it.

Mix: Your spirits will be for sale elsewhere of course, but are your drinks at The Shanty focused primarily on what you produce?

Katz: We try not to hit people over the head at The Shanty with a feeling that they are obligated to only drink our gins. It is our pleasure to tell guests all about them, how they are made, what the botanical recipes are, even tour the distillery. But when it comes right down to it, we want the Shanty to feel like a comfortable bar where you can just as easily get a great drink as you can enjoy a beer. We love presenting our gins in cocktails, of course, that’s what they are made for, but we don’t want to assume that everyone is just coming in for that purpose.

Mix: It's suddenly impossible to keep track of the number and output of micro-distilleries. Does that concern you as you enter the market?

Katz: I actually think it is pretty exciting. Yes, you wonder from time to time if there is room for so many startups, but you just keep your head down and do the work you set out to do. On one hand, the competition is good and healthy. On another hand, it is great fun to have a burgeoning community of young distillers and entrepreneurs. We are facing the same challenges, and there is no reason why we can’t help each other along and, when opportunities arise, promote our work together.


The distillery at New York Distilling.

Mix: What does a bartender bring to distillation that someone else might not?

Katz: A keen awareness of how spirits work well in cocktails and with other ingredients and access to a community of hospitality professionals that has been gracious and supportive as we develop recipes and products as we seek feedback along the way.

Mix: What is the hardest lesson learned so far?

Katz: Permitting and construction in New York City takes a long, long time.

Mix: We know about your two kinds of gins and the rye just off the still. What sort of products are in the future?

Katz: Rock & Rye for certain. Experimenting with other gin styles that may or may not see the public light of day.

Mix: What's your favorite drink these days?

Katz: A Dorothy Parker Negroni.