By Bill Parry

An Astoria man is planning to open the first craft spirits distillery in Queens since the Prohibition era back in the 1920s. Chris Murillo, the founder of the Astoria Distillery Co., has been making his award-winning gin Queens Courage at an upstate Rochester-area facility and he is negotiating for a space to manufacture in western Queens.

“It’s not an easy process. First, we have to secure the lease and then there’s a ton of hoops to go through,” Murillo said. “There is a gauntlet of regulatory regimes on the federal, state and local levels that we have to navigate, but in the perfect world we hope to be open in the fall.”

Queens Courage is growing in popularity in several nightspots in Long Island City and Astoria, such as Mundo at the Paper Factory and the Sparrow Tavern. It’s a refined interpretation of Old Tom gin, an old-fashioned style that was very popular in the 1800s and pre-Prohibition era.

It is sweetened with locally sourced honey, and can be used to craft classic cocktails.

“It’s also really smooth and so refined that you can drink it neat, on its own,” Murillo said. The 35-year-old corporate securities attorney hatched his plan for the Astoria Distilling Co. in 2011 when two friends moved to Puerto Rico to open a craft brewery 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 too many distilleries,” Murillo said. “I started researching the laws and found this state is pretty friendly for small craft distilleries. He began taking classes at the Entrepreneur Space run by the Queens Economic Development Corporation.

Known as the E-Space, at 36-47 37th St. in Long Island City, the 4-year-old food-and-business incubator guides 150to 175 clients in starting their own businesses while using the facility’s industrial-size kitchen, workstations, classrooms and office space that entrepreneurs can rent at below market rates as they build their businesses.

A recent survey determined that the E-Space has helped more than 450 small businesses, generated $5 million in revenue, and created more that 100 jobs since it opened in 2011.

“The E-Space has been absolutely critical. We never could have gotten started without the office space for the licensing process just to begin production,” Murillo said. “They’ve been a tremendous resource and we owe our initial success to the QEDC.”

The Astoria Distillery Co. got an economic benefit and it was one of three winners of the Queens Start UP! Business Plan Competition last May. The $10,000 award helped them go in to production in June and transport their product down from Rochester.

“It’s been a great partnership with QEDC,” Murillo said. “I’m actually still using the offices at the E-Space until we’re ready to move into the new facility.” In the meantime, Murillo and his master distiller, Jordan Via, have perfected Queens Courage into an award-winning product.

The gin rated 96 points at the 2015 Ultimate Spirits Challenge, a Manhattan-based competition that provides expert evaluation for producers, marketers, importers, distributors and retailers.

“My distiller Jordan has captured a dozen gold medals, but a 96 from Ultimate is his highest accolade in over 15 years in the business,” Murillo said. “That makes it the highest-rated gin in New York City, the highest-rated new gin in the world and the highest-rated Old Tom-style gin in the world. That was a really big feather in our cap.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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