Our/New York Founder Dave Ortiz grew up in New York City, so when he had a chance to create the first distillery in Manhattan since Prohibition, he jumped on it. “Very few people in New York can say that they’re the first to do anything, so being able to say that we are the first – that’s wild.”
Our/New York started out with a vodka made using the famous New York water that makes the pizza and bagels so good. They use a natural yeast that delivers aromas of lavender, lemongrass, and vanilla, and makes for a completely unique bottling. Earlier this year, the brand stepped out to make a new offering Our/New York Basil, which combined the vodka’s unique New Yorkness with locally sourced basil.
In this week’s Bottle Breakdown, we caught up with Ortiz to discuss Our/New York Vodka and Basil, learn what it was like to create Manhattan’s first distillery in almost 100 years, and dig into what makes their offerings so unique.
Spirited Zine: Our/New York is the first distillery in Manhattan since Prohibition, that had to be a wild process. How did you cut through all that red tape and why was it important for you to establish a distillery in Manhattan?
Dave Ortiz: I grew up in this city, so when I had a chance to create something called “Our/New York”, I took it. This city is wild, and crazy, and I love everything about it. Very few people in New York can say that they’re the first to do anything, so being able to say that we are the first – that’s wild. That’s why we were willing to do it all, and I’ve got to tell you, it was a long process. In the end, to have something unique, in the heart of Manhattan, is really special to me.
SZ: Tell us about your first experience with vodka and how that relates to the way you approached creating Our/New York vodka?
DO: When most people think of vodka, they think of a boring spirit, without any character. That’s what I thought for the longest time. We wanted to change that, to create something actually worth drinking. Everything we do to make our vodka, we tried it a thousand different ways to get it just right. Even our still is custom made for us, to make sure we’re creating something truly premium.
SZ: You’ve just released Our/New York Basil. Why did you think this was the right time to unveil a flavored vodka?
DO: It came about through a collaboration with Rethink Food, who wanted to find a way to repurpose fresh food that would otherwise be discarded. They approached us with a few different ideas from the local farm they worked with, Square Roots, and ultimately, we found basil to be super interesting. As a brand that is proudly New York, we saw it as the perfect opportunity to come together with local partners to repurpose a beautiful ingredient to create something really unique.
SZ: Most brands seem to be producing either sweet or fruit flavored vodkas. Why did you choose to move in a more herbal and savory direction?
DO: We wanted to do something different with an ingredient sourced from the city, and basil is really interesting. It’s so complex, but has a familiarity that we all know. We wanted to put that on display, and let that complexity shine through, which happens when you use real, fresh basil. You’ve got to try it.
SZ: Where do you get your grains and water from to create Our/New York vodka?
DO: Our water is that famous New York water that makes the pizza and bagels so good. We get our ethanol from out of state, making sure it’s always the highest quality. Every ingredient that we use is the best, because we want to make the best vodka you’ve ever had.
SZ: Can you tell us about the natural yeast you use for fermentation and what it delivers to the vodka?
DO: The natural yeast is our magical ingredient that we use in Our/New York that really makes it stand out. It has a really interesting aroma, with notes of lavender, lemongrass, and vanilla. When you try the vodka, you can get those notes, very subtly, that work to just elevate the drink, making it incredibly smooth.
SZ: How do you get the basil flavor and aromas into the vodka?
DO: The basil arrives fresh and we immediately de-stem it and chop it up, all by hand. We then add it to a mixture of our base spirit and water and allow it to infuse for at least 24 hours. The next step is the distillation – we filter the infused, then distill it, which brings out all of the complex flavors of the basil. Afterwards, we blend the basil distillate with our triple-filtered New York City water and our base spirit, and bottle it up by hand. This whole process happens at our distillery in Chelsea in Manhattan.
SZ: The basil used for the vodka is from Brooklyn-based urban farm Square Roots, and is created in partnership with non-profit Rethink Food. Can you tell us about the mission behind the product and why it’s so important to create lasting change in our food system?
DO: According to our partner, Rethink Food, 70 billion tons of good food go underutilized this year, and in New York City specifically about 3.9 million tons of wasted food ends up in landfills each year. There’s an urgency to create lasting change in the food system and to reduce food waste.
This product does exactly that by utilizing unused food to create an innovative spirit. We’re demonstrating how New Yorkers can come together to repurpose otherwise perishable products into exciting new initiatives.
SZ: Are there any cocktails you recommend making with Our/New York Basil?
DO: Of course! It works really well in a martini for a fun twist on a classic.
Dirty Basil Martini
- 4 Parts Our/New York Basil
- 1 Parts Dry Vermouth
- 1 Parts Olive Brine
Stir ingredients with ice, then strain into Martini glass. Garnish with a basil leaf.
SZ: How do you like to enjoy Our/New York Basil? And what kind of occasion do you think pairs best with the beverage?
DO: It’s such a refreshing drink, and with it getting warmer out, I think it’s really nice to enjoy on the rocks, or in a Bloody Mary at an outdoor brunch. There isn’t really any occasion that it doesn’t work.
For more information, check out the brand’s official website.