Craft distillery in the works for borough

By Bill Parry

An Astoria resident is close to producing an old-style gin named for the borough and now he has won a competition that gives him the means to deliver it.

The Astoria Distilling Co.’s founder, Chris Murillo, was one of three winners in the Queens StartUP! Business Plan Competition, and he will use the $10,000 grant to distribute Queens Courage when it goes into production this summer.

The 35-year-old corporate securities attorney is waiting on final permits from the state and federal governments before he begins the first production-run of the Old Tom-style gin, which was popular in the 1800s, with plans to one day open a craft distillery.

“It will be the first in Queens,” Murillo said. “I’ve already tapped into my life savings, so the $10,000 will go towards buying a van so that we have the means to meet all the demand I’ve received from all over the city.”

Murillo says he got the idea in 2011 when two friends opened a craft brewery in Puerto Rico because too many of them were starting up around New York City.

“I thought there were too many in New York, but I noticed there aren’t many distilleries,” he said. “I started researching the laws and found this state is pretty friendly for small craft distilleries.”

As a lawyer more familiar with IPOs, mergers and acquisitions, Murillo enrolled in courses at The Entrepreneur Space, the four-year-old business incubator run by the Queens Economic Development Corp.

The E-Space, at 36-47 37th St. in Long Island City, has a 12-member professional staff that guides 150 to 175 clients in starting their own businesses while using the facility’s industrial-size kitchen and office space.

“I spent a year taking entrepreneur courses,” Murillo said. “It was a very intense experience. I learned a lot and I’ve been preparing my business plan through that course.”

The plan won the annual competition run by the QEDC at its Taste of Queens showcase last week.

When he secures the last of the permits, Murillo will make his first batch of Queens Courage in a distillery upstate in Rochester.

“Then we’ll start looking for a place in Astoria or Long Island City or Woodside for the distillery,” Murillo said, adding that finding a space with the proper zoning is proving difficult.

“When zoning was done in the ’60s, there was no such thing as craft distilling,” he said. “My legal training has been invaluable because it’s so highly regulated.”

He thinks Queens is the perfect growth market for his gin because it can be easily tailored for different ethnic groups.

“We can expand the brand and make Ouzo for the Greek community, Limoncello for the Italians. This borough has so many cultures, each with its unique distilling history,” Murillo said.

Born in Costa Rica and raised in California, Murillo discovered Astoria when he attended New York University Law School five years ago and eventually moved there with his wife.

“It’s great when you move to a place and it feels like home,” he said. “Queens is the next big thing and we wanted to be a part of it.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4538.