Red Brick Co-Owner Melds Brewing, Jewish Heritage

Zach Cohen, co-owner of the Red Brick Craft Distillery, is a busy guy.

Zach Cohen, co-owner of the Red Brick Craft Distillery, is a busy guy.
He’s pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology at Penn and helping run a distillery in his spare time. And Cohen believes his path toward distilling may have been predestined.
“I’ve come full circle,” said Cohen. “My great-great-grandfather, a Russian Jew, built carriages with false bottoms in them for the czar to use for smuggling liquor and other things. And my great-grandfather on the other side of the family had a malt business in Wisconsin, which catered to the beer industry. When Prohibition was enacted, he closed and converted to a paper mill. But on both sides, there is a history that is tangentially related to distilling.”
Red Brick does everything from scratch and by hand; sources locally grown and malted barley; and employs state-of-the-art recipes and techniques.
The distillery uses four types of malt to create its whiskeys, and follows the “proofing rules” employed by producers of Kentucky bourbon. While it is not making bourbon — that can only come from Kentucky and is made from corn — the distillation method is similar.
Red Brick ages its whiskey in first-use, heavy-char 5-gallon American white-oak barrels.
“The small size of our barrels accelerates the aging process; the whiskey spends seven to eight months in the barrels, and then we proceed with the bottling process,” Cohen said. “We have already started a batch of whiskey that will undergo a longer barrel aging using 15-gallon barrels, which is exciting.”
Red Brick also produces rum, which it calls Simple Shine. It is a white spirit, made from sugar using the technique called “shining,” which was developed by moonshine makers.
Simple Shine, according to Cohen, is “very well made, and it is challenging because there are no added flavors or ingredients to conceal errors in distillation. If the distiller makes a mistake, it will show in the taste.”
Cohen found his way to distilling through home brewing beer.
“I was an avid home brewer, so this was a natural progression. And it sounds odd, but I see it as connected to my strong Jewish identity. The essence of Judaism is to be learning all the time. The questioning, the stretching yourself, the tenacity is a beautiful thing. Learning about distilling, pursuing excellence, seizing this business opportunity — that reflects my Jewishness.”
Cohen was raised in a Conservative temple in Massachusetts and has always had an immense pride in his strong Jewish identity. But his mother was not Jewish — so he went through a formal conversion.
“It seemed odd, in a way, because I already considered myself a Jew and had been active in the temple for my entire life. But I wanted to go through the process.”
His favorite drink recipes?
“Funny thing. Years ago, I took a bartending course. As a result, I don’t think I need to measure ingredients or use recipes. But I remember absolutely nothing from the class.”
Cohen recommends using Red Brick Craft Whiskey in a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned.
“In the past, people often disregarded the whiskey, or whatever spirit they were using, if they were making a mixed drink or cocktail. The thought seemed to be that if you are mixing it with something, then the quality didn’t matter as much. But I’m happy to say that is no longer the case.”
Cohen did offer a strong piece of advice for mixing an Old Fashioned.
“The key ingredient is the cherry. People ruin the drink with those bright red artificial things. The cherry should be dark red and, if it’s from a jar, it should be almost painfully expensive. It should elevate the drink, so it has to be the best quality.”
His advice on consuming Simple Shine is rather different: “I use it in a White Russian instead of vodka.”
A fan of the movie The Big Lebowski, Cohen invokes his inner “Dude” with this libation. He mixes Simple Shine, milk or cream, Kahlúa and a splash of Bailey’s Irish Cream. The proportions?
“It depends on my plan for the rest of the day,” he said with a laugh.
Red Brick Old Fashioned 
1 teaspoon simple syrup (recipe follows)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 ounces Red Brick Craft Whisky
2 ice cubes
1 1-inch piece orange peel
1 or 2 really good quality jarred cherries.
In an Old Fashioned glass, place the simple syrup, bitters and whiskey. Stir.
Add the ice cubes, stir again, then garnish with the orange peel and cherry.
Makes 1
Simple Syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Heat the ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves.
This keeps for months in the fridge.
Makes 1
Simple Shine White Russian
2 ounces Simple Shine
1 ounce coffee liqueur (Kahlúa or Tia Maria)
1 ounce half-and-half
Fill a short glass with ice. Pour the remaining ingredients over the ice and stir gently.
Makes 1


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