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Podcast

Barking Irons Has Created A Spirit As New York as Apple Gin

New York may be famous for Applejack but we talk to Elliott Phear from Barking Irons Spirits about making New York famous for Apple Gin

By: Tiff Christie|June 28,2021

Craft distilling is all about experimentation and the ability to release new flavours and tastes.

So it’s not surprising that in New York, a state known for its apple production, craft distiller, Barking Irons has concentrated on apple based spirits.

But rather than just look at AppleJack variations, the brand has now released a gin made from apples. Some would say this new gin is New York to the core.

To find out more, we speak to Barking Iron Spirits Co-founder, Elliott Phear about apples, alcohol, and launching a gin in 2021.

For more information, go to barkingironsspirits.comor connect with the brand via @bispirits on Instagram or Facebook

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Tiff:
Craft distilling is all about experimentation and the ability to release new flavours and tastes. So it's not surprising that in New York, a state known for its apple production, craft distiller, Barking Irons has concentrated on apple based spirits. But rather than just look at AppleJack variations, the brand has now released a gin made from apples. Some would say this new gin is New York to the core. To find out more, we speak to Barking Iron Spirits Co-founder, Elliott Phear about apples, alcohol, and launching a gin in 2021.

Thank you for joining us, Elliott.

Elliott Phear:
Oh, it's my pleasure, Tiff. Thanks for having me.

Tiff:
Now, people would probably know the Barking irons brand best for the Rock and Roll and Inspired Apparel. What made the brand decide to venture into distilling?

Elliott Phear:
So, good question. The Barking Iron brands has been around for several years. It was initially founded by the brothers, Michael and Daniel Caserella. And it was founded as a fashion company in New York and a fashion company that really paid a lot of tribute and homage to rock and roll and New York's legendary rock and roll history. So they make some really great fashion and they do. They work with a lot of really great artists, Bob Dylan, and Kings of Leon to name a couple. And that's actually how we came to meet these guys.
So several years ago, Casey and I were at a launch party and we were working with Kings of Leon at the time, they were working with the band at the time and we just hit it off. And Casey McGrath, the Co-founder of Barking Irons Spirits and myself were hanging out with these guys and Casey and I had always wanted to create our own spirit, and we wanted to make a spirit that felt authentic to New York. And so we'd kind of been on the hunt for what could we make, what kind of spirit could we make that would be interesting and pay tribute to New York, and we still were on the hunt for the right brand too and we fell in love. That was the moment when we really fell in love with this Barking Irons brand. Barking Irons is actually slang for pistols in old New York, in like five points era New York, if you've ever seen Gangs Of New York.
New York has this really scrappy, tough, rough and tumble sort of defiant spirit. And we love that about the brand that they had created. And so we talked with them and we said, Hey, can we work together? You guys continue doing this fashion line and we're going to build out the spirits side of this brand. And that was how it really started, and our venture into making new York-based spirits.

Tiff:
New York is the second largest producer of apples in America. I assume that's why you went with AppleJack and apple based spirits?

Elliott Phear:
It is. The more we looked into it, the more we just fell in love with this spirit called Applejack. I don't know how familiar you are with it, but a lot of people call it the original American spirit. When our country was founded, we were a country that produced amongst other things a lot of apples. There were apple orchards up and down the Eastern Seaboards and apples were a big part of the sustenance of early Americans, our founding fathers, et cetera. And anyway, those thirsty colonists would make apple cider as a way to cool off and cool down, and then they would take that cider, ferment it, and through a process called freeze distillation, they would turn it into what's called Applejack. And the process was known as jacking the apple cider.
So anyway, Casey and I just fell in love with this original American spirit. It was so cool and it was something that nobody else was doing. And also we knew that we could create something, New York has these amazing apples. We're from New York, it's an authentic New York spirit, and we knew we could create something amazing and different from what everybody else was doing. So that really was how it began and thus began the search of sourcing the best apples from the Central New York region, which has this great soil that produces these great apples and then producing the Applejack itself. It was a great experience and adventure, and ultimately it resulted in what we consider to be one of the best Applejacks on the market. And it's poured in some of the best restaurants across New York and in Florida. And so I know a lot of other people feel the same way about it

Tiff:
Is Applejack very rock and roll though?

Elliott Phear:
Oh, I think so. It's funny you might not think that, I suppose, because of its namesake, Applejack. Some People associate it with either the cereal or it's actually my little pony. So there was a little bit of an uphill battle because people at the bar, they'll call for a whiskey or tequila, but they don't call for Applejack very often. But in fact, I think to a certain extent, Rock and Roll is all about breaking rules and doing things your own way. What I will say is that it's a premium spirit made with some of the best apples in the world, and I'll put it head to head with any whiskey or any other spirit. I think it's a quality product too, and I think that's rock and roll.

Tiff:
Now, what made your thoughts turn to gin?

Elliott Phear:
Well, over the past few years, we've really established credibility in the New York market, with restauranteurs, with bartenders and business owners, and everybody loves our Applejack. I think for us, we were interested in and curious about gin for two reasons. Number one, because we love it. Both Casey and I drink a lot of gin in the summer and also in the fall and winter. And we just thought, here's this spirit that it's not tequila, it's not an oversaturated market. It's got a great history. We knew that by using an apple distillate as our base, we could create something really interesting. And the more we got curious about what a gin would taste like if it had an apple base, the more we just had to find out what it was going to taste like.

Tiff:
Apples of course, aren't commonly used as a base for gin. Was there a fair amount of trial and error when you were trying to put it together?

Elliott Phear:
There was. And I think in the most sort of joyful and I don't know, fun way. So we've worked with this great distiller for the past several years, his name's Derek. He owns Van Brunt Stillhouse, and I can't say enough good things about him. He's been making our Applejack with us for probably four or five years at this point. So we knew going into the process that we had a really great partner on our side and that we were in good hands and he was as excited to explore this as we were.
So yeah, we did. We made a few different batches, some better than others. But once we got a hint of the apple flavour that came through the gin, we knew we were onto something and so we kept exploring that. That was when at some point the citrus flavours also started to appear. And once we started getting a hold of those apple notes and those citrus notes together, we were almost blown away by how great those two tastes are when they come together. So from then, it was just really refining it and dialing it in.

Tiff:
Now, what variety of apples are you actually using?

Elliott Phear:
We use a bunch of different apples and it will kind of depend on the year, but New York produces tons of different varietals. So we use McCoon, we use Jonagold, we use Mclntosh. Typically, we use sweeter apples which are often called table apples because when you distill them, they are more likely to leave you with that really appley flavour, like a baked apple or almost like an apple pie. And so we love those sort of strong notes that you get from the sweeter apples.

Tiff:
Talk us through the process of making a gin from apples.

Elliott Phear:
Sure. So we're going to start with an apple distilate and that'll be based on different ciders that we source from farms around Upstate New York. We'll bring that in to our distillery, the partner that we work with, Van Brunt Stillhouse and there, we'll mix that apple distill it with 190 Proof New York Dairy Whey, and we'll begin the maturation process. And in that process, we are really aiming for those apple and citrus notes, but of course, with that sophisticated gin classic flavour that Gin. is known for. So we do use orris root and juniper and some of the other typical botanicals that you'd associate with gin, but then we really heavy up on things like orange peel and lemon peel and lemon balm and dried orange peels, and those I think really give it the distinctive character that makes our gin unique.

Tiff:
So it actually has a whey based to it, does it?

Elliott Phear:
That's right. Yeah.

Tiff:
Okay. That's interesting.

Elliott Phear:
Yeah. Well, it was actually our distillers idea. As you said in the beginning, craft distilling is all about experimentation and people are really using whey neutral spirits more frequently because of the taste. It's a new thing that's happening as opposed to neutral grain spirits. And so we decided that we give it a try in the research and development process, and what we discovered was that the taste, especially when put together with the apple distillate was fantastic. So once we discovered it, there was no looking back.

Tiff:
Most people would, of course, be used to gin made on a neutral grain base. What do you think are the main differences between that and your fruit/ whey based gin?

Elliott Phear:
Well, the main difference is just when we set out to make this apple based gin, we wanted it to have that apple flavour. And so by using that apple distillate, I think it really gives it just a fruit-based flavour that you wouldn't get from a neutral grain spirit as your base. And so it's really the differences in the taste.

Tiff:
So it's a little purer, I suppose?

Elliott Phear:
Yeah, I think so. I think so. You're starting with a base. It's not just the botanicals that are giving it its flavour, it's the base, which is that apple distillate.

Tiff:
How would you describe the style of gin? Is it very juniper forward?

Elliott Phear:
It's not juniper forward. You're certainly going to get that juniper flavour that you're going to associate with a typical gin, but it's not too strong and it's really citrusy. It's got floral notes, it's well balanced and you're just going to get a hint of apple.

Tiff:
Apples are normally thought of as an autumn flavour. Is that something that people should expect from this gin?

Elliott Phear:
No, I think it's a year round drink. I think one of the great things about gin is how versatile it is. And so in the summer, I would drink mine certainly with tonic, would be one way to drink it. But to be honest, I like mine just on ice. I will also say that everybody that we've been sampling on it and this is our first month that we're in the market and all the bartenders we've talked to, a lot of people like it on its own just on ice. So I think certainly that's like a refreshing summer way to drink gin. Obviously, it's great with tonic. I particularly like those Fever-Tree Tonics, so I'll drink it that way. But on a year round basis, I think a Negroni is a wonderful year round drink. I think a martini is certainly a wonderful year round drink. So despite like that apple flavour, I think it's not a seasonal gin. It's a year round gin.

Tiff:
By mentioning martinis and Negroni's, it's sounding as if it's quite an adaptable gin that can be used in pretty much a majority of gin based cocktails.

Elliott Phear:
Yeah, I think so. I think it is. And certainly the lemon peel or citrus peel that you would often find in cocktails, really in gin cocktails really goes well with our gin. It marries up and helps bring out those citrus notes that are so defining for our gin.

Tiff:
Now, if someone were to taste your apple gin for the first time, what should they expect? What will they find different from the run-of-the-mill gin that they may have tasted before?

Elliott Phear:
Well, we like to say it's apples and oranges. The difference between our gins and others is apples and oranges. Those are the tastes that you're going to have. And it's so unique. One of the things I love about gin is how expressive all different gins are. And I think you can really lean into one flavour if you want with your gin. We've done that and we've made a New York gin and it's an homage to the apple, which is a big part of our city and our state, The Big Apple. So you can really expect to find a little that apple and then that orange.

Tiff:
Gin has been a very dominant spirit in the UK and a variety of other places. It hasn't really quite taken off in the US yet. Why do you think that is?

Elliott Phear:
I think it's about to. I think we're on the cusp of something new happening, but I think the reason that it hasn't yet taken off is I just don't think the premiumization has really been filled out in the way some of the other spirit categories have. So we'll use tequila as an example. Obviously, 30 years ago, people thought of tequila as something that you shoot maybe on your birthday kind of thing. Now, people drink very expensive, $300 tequilas on ice. I think that we just haven't experienced that for gin yet. We haven't gone through that process where people have really discovered the nuance that these gins can have. But I think America is ripe for it and we do love our alcohol here. So I can see this exploration potentially coming down the pike.

Tiff:
So you really think the US is close to having a gin renaissance of its own?

Elliott Phear:
I hope so. But yes, I do. I really do. And I think Aviation has probably helped kick that off, and I do see a number of interesting gins entering the space with different histories and different flavour profiles on their own. So yeah, I do. I think we're on the cusp of it.

Tiff:
Now, you've launched this really recently. How different has it been launching this post-COVID to launching the applejacks that were pre-COVID?

Elliott Phear:
I can't tell you how different it is. I think what's happening in the beverage market now is a massive upheaval that a lot of it is driven by the at-home occasion and driven by e-commerce. And so for us, what was possible before versus what's possible now is just vastly different. We're available in almost every state in the US now versus when we launched. We were only available in the New York Metro area with our Applejacks.
And so while I still absolutely think the on-premise and off-premise traditional channels play a huge role in building your business and your brand, I also think that e-commerce has become so much more important, but such an opportunity. So many other industries have already had this disruption go through their business, but because of the three tier system, spirits is kind of late to the game on this, but now I think we're about to experience it.
We're in the middle of it. I know people who are launching brands online only, and that certainly wouldn't have happened pre-COVID. But anyways, I still think that the on-premise, like I said, the off-premise plays a big role, and I think it's been wonderful to see how New York has reopened and to see so many restaurants doing swift business. We really stayed in touch with all of our key accounts and supported them as much as we could during COVID. So it's really been great to just rekindle those relationships as we put our new gin into the market, and it's been greeted very warmly by all of our account partners.

Tiff:
I was speaking to someone the other day who said that this period was almost magical because bars have very little stock and they're completely restocking to open, and that it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to get your spirits onto the back bar. Is that something that you've found?

Elliott Phear:
I think it's maybe partially true. It's not something that I guess we've experienced so much. I think for us, we had a really great account-based pre COVID. So we've really focused on the accounts that have focused on us, if that makes sense. Well, yes, we have opened several new accounts over the past month or two. I think for us this time is really about reconnecting with those accounts and making sure that they are supporting them as they bring us on and put us onto their cocktail menus and get their business back up and running.

Tiff:
You talked about online opening up almost the whole country for distribution. Do you think though, the bartenders and the bars recommending spirits are still going to be the primary way that people are educated?

Elliott Phear:
Yeah, I do. I do. And I still think that those channels are going to be critical for any brand that wants to get started, but I don't know. I bet that there are some brands that would be able to build themselves online on their own. I think also people who have established audiences and then they can monetise that audience through building their own brands. That's another way I think people may build businesses in the spirits market. But to your point, I think the bartenders, I've always felt that the bartender is one of the most important people to get on your side, and I think that will continue to be the case in the years ahead.

Tiff:
And what has the reaction of bartenders been? Have any of them had the time to create any cocktails you didn't expect with the gin?

Elliott Phear:
To be honest, we just launched this pass, maybe it was like week and a half ago. And so-

Tiff:
Oh, I didn't realize it was that soon. Okay.

Elliott Phear:
Yeah. So we haven't had a chance to really see how bartenders are going to explore and experiment with it. But I will say that some people have definitely shouted this out on Instagram, some bartenders that we know and love. And so it's been wonderful. I will also say that the people who are running drinks menus have welcomed this gin and very quickly put it on their cocktail menu. So it's good.

Tiff:
Now, you mentioned before that you drink it straight or on ice. Is that the way that you think people should first experience it?

Elliott Phear:
I would. If you're a gin drinker with a mature palate, I think that's a great way to experience it, chilled with a little bit of water in it and nice and cold, and then you're really going to get those flavours that I mentioned. If you want to put an orange peel in it, that might be nice to make it a very, very dry martini. Yeah, that's how I would explore it and try it first time out. Yeah, I would.

Tiff:
With apple as the dominant flavour though, are there specific cocktails that you think work particularly well?

Elliott Phear:
The three cocktails that I love are classic gin cocktails. I think it's good to use classic cocktails when you're introducing a new spirit because it's a familiar way to introduce a new idea. And so for us, it's the martini, it is the gin and tonic and it's what we call the NY-groni, it's a Negroni made with our gin. And I think each one of those has its own virtues, but they all play really well with the apple and orange flavour that our gin embodies.

Tiff:
I'd be interested to find out what it would taste like in something like a Bee's Knees where you're combining that apple with honey. I think that would be an interesting.

Elliott Phear:
Oh, that's a great idea. I'm going to have to give that a try. Maybe I can get the recipe.

Tiff:
I'll email one across.
Now, obviously you're available in the New York area, but online you're available throughout the country. Is that correct?

Elliott Phear:
That's right. Yeah. We are also available in Florida and we opened up that market about a year ago. Sorry, in Florida, in liquor stores and bars and restaurants.

Tiff:
And with the online, who is that available through?

Elliott Phear:
It's through our website and we are also available on ReserveBar.

Tiff:
Are you ever thinking of doing any international...

Elliott Phear:
Distribution? I've actually talked with a friend or two in the UK about it. I have some good relationships there. So I've thought about it. It's really about, can we make the business work and import taxes and all that, but I do… I know that the UK has a strong following for US spirits and especially brown spirits, and I'd love to know what the UK thinks of an American gin.

Tiff:
And be taking it back to the gin's motherland.

Elliott Phear:
Yeah, that'd be a true test.

Tiff:
Very much so.
Now obviously, if people want more information, they can, of course go to your website, which is barkingironsspirits.com or connect with the brand via your socials?

Elliott Phear:
Yeah, BISpirits, @bispirits.

Tiff:
And that's across Instagram, Facebook?

Elliott Phear:
That is - across Instagram and Facebook. Yeah.

Tiff:
Excellent. All right. Well, thanks for taking the time to speak with us today.

Elliott Phear:
Yeah, it was my pleasure. Thanks so much for having us on and Tiff, thanks for your support on Barking Irons.

Tiff:
Thank you and good luck with its launch.

Elliott Phear:
Thanks so much. Cheers, Tiff.

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