Bitter and better: Wormwood distillery opens tasting room in Industry City

Sasha Selimotic
In the pour house: Standard Wormwood Distillery co-owner Sasha Selimotic mixes a Manhattan, made with the distillery’s own vermouth and rye whiskey.
Photo by Caroline Ourso

They’re setting the standard!

A distillery and tasting room now open in Industry City produces spirits made with an exotic, once-forbidden bitter plant. Standard Wormwood Distillery creates whiskey, gin, and other kinds of booze out of wormwood, a key ingredient in absinthe that was banned in the early 20th century because of suspicions that it could cause hallucinations — concerns that were concocted by a rival beverage, said one distiller.

“It was a hit job from the wine industry,” said Taras Hrabowsky, who founded Standard Wormwood with Sasha Selimotic.

Restrictions on the herb were lifted in 2007, and the pair, then roommates in Bushwick, began experimenting with it. Now they use the plant to distill a rye whiskey, a gin, an amaro, an apertif, and a semi-sweet vermouth, along with an agave spirit (which legally cannot be called mezcal, since it was not produced in Mexico, but tastes much the same).

Bottle service: Five of the six spirits distilled at Standard Wormwood sit on the bar, while co-owner Taras Hrabowsky assembles a still in the back. Courtesy of Industry City

The addition of wormwood gives each spirit a unique character, said Hrabowsky — one that is distinct from absinthe.

“It gives the spirits a long finish,” he said. “It’s a way to add complexity. People assume it’s going to be licorice-y, but we say right on the bottle that there is no anise or licorice flavor in here.”

In fact, Standard Wormwood does not make absinthe, because its founders are focused on making something new, said Selimotic.

“We do love absinthe,” he said. “For us though, it’s about exploring the possibilities of what wormwood and bitters in spirits can bring.”

The pair previously worked in a cramped spot in Bedford-Stuyvesant, but the Industry City location gives them plenty of space to experiment. The back room features a mad scientist-like shelf of bottles, each containing the essence of a different herb or fruit, along with a still and other equipment. In the front is a 45-seat bar, where people can sample the results of those flavor trials.

A little jarring: The distillers at Standard Wormwood experiment with many different flavors while working on their next spirits. Photo by Caroline Ourso

“Experimenting is what this is all about,” said Hrabowsky. “We can do little things that are one-offs, things that we only do here — it gives you a reason to come back.”

The bar has a cocktail menu filled with classic drinks, including the Manhattan, the Sazerac, and the Margarita, each made with liquor produced on site — and if you like what you taste, you can buy a bottle to go!

The distillers plan to produce two more kinds of vermouth and another apertif in the near future, which will let them add a Martini and a few other drinks to the menu.

Standard Wormwood Distillery Tasting Room and Bar [68 34th St. between Second and Third avenues, enter from Industry City Courtyard 5/6, (718) 635–4368, www.standardwormwood.com]. Open Thu–Fri, 5–9 pm; Sat, noon–10 pm, Sun, noon–8 pm.

Raising the bar: Sasha Selimotic welcomes a happy-hour crowd at the distillery’s new cocktail bar. Photo by Caroline Ourso