Bed-Stuy’s Distillery Mystery

BottleShot_1010631_v2 J.W. Overby & Co.
BottleShot_1010631_v2 J.W. Overby & Co.
Credit: J.W. Overbey & Co.

Joseph Overbey’s obsession began in Williamsburg in 2008 and accompanied him to Gowanus in 2011. It was only cider, initially, but eventually included mead. Beer, too. His apartment was a shrine to fermentation.

“I loved yeast and the process of turning things into alcohol,” says Overbey, who also dabbled with distillation. This process was trickiest.

“You could easily find a homebrewing store and grab hops, but I had to really dig for stuff on distilling at home. It was this mysterious thing.”

The mystery intrigued and, eventually, entranced, Overbey. He discusses distillation delicately, like dissecting an overture from Mendelssohn.

“It’s a slow, meticulous and layered process. It’s so beautiful to watch everything coming together to form a spirit.”

Overbey’s new distillery in Bedford-Stuyvesant, J.W. Overbey & Co, is also “coming together.” It’s only 580 square feet, located within an eight-story building previously owned by Pfizer but shuttered in 2008. Acumen Capital Partners is now leasing space to local businesses, including Brooklyn Soda Works and Kombucha Brooklyn, but remnants of Pfizer—primarily signage—are still everywhere. A large portion of several floors are gutted and unoccupied, too.


Overbey is producing 35-gallon batches with two assistants, Sean McKnight and Andrew Schultze, and “just experimenting with a lot of stuff,” evidenced by several rows of carboy-encased mashes. His first release, however, is slated for Saturday. White Whiskey is unaged and double-distilled, featuring corn from  Lakeview Organic Grain in Penn Yan, New York.

“The main thing I recognized from transitioning from flaked maize during home distillation to real organic corn was this earthy, mushroom-like quality,” says Overbey. “I wanted to capture that in the spirit.”

A bourbon will follow White Whiskey in 2014, but Overbey is flexible on a specific date. It’s…another mystery.

“The bourbon will tell us when it’s ready.”

J.W. Overbey & Co offers its next tour this Saturday, December 14. White Whiskey is only available via tour.

Katherine Hernandez

Katherine Hernandez is an Afro-Latina chef and multimedia journalist. Her work has been published on NPR Food, PRI's The World, Edible Manhattan, Feet in 2 Worlds, Gothamist and more.

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