Kyrejko with his vacuum still

Proof of Process

David Kyrejko has perfected every drinker’s ideal alchemy: turning beer into whiskey. Oh, and he can do it in only two weeks.

When David Kyrejko was an art student at New York’s Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, he actually favored the former, spending as much time auditing engineering classes as he did in the studio. He lists one of his hobbies as “high-efficiency heat exchanger design.” Even his interest in booze, while not purely scientific, is firmly rooted in a love of machines and how things work. “It’s a platform to experiment with,” he says. “Alcohol is proof of process.”

In this case, the “proof” is the 80- to 110-proof alcohol content of Lone Wolf beer whiskeys—actual malt whiskey distilled from, and retaining the flavors of, stouts, pale ales, and sours—which Kyrejko concocts in the one-man, Brooklyn-based Arcane Distilling. But why beer whiskey? First, c’mon! It’s beer and whiskey—two of God’s tastiest gifts, working together (finally!) to create the uber-intoxicant. Secondly, the 33-year-old engineer enjoys the challenge.

Kyrejko’s vacuum still allows whiskey to be made at room temperature

Distilling beer into liquor is not exactly new. Germans have been turning brew into schnapps and brandy for decades, and here in the States, beer whiskeys and gins have inevitably bubbled up during the torrent of new craft brewers. What sets Kyrejko apart, of course, is the science.

Unlike other distillers, who are beholden to the ancient techniques of boiling their mixture in huge vats and aging their whiskeys in barrels, Kyrejko has perfected a method of vacuum distillation. His specialized, hand-built machine takes a finished area beer, like Rockaway Brewing Company’s Blame It on the Maine double IPA or the Kings County Brewers Collective’s Full Contact raspberry sour, and drops the pressure of the liquid, lowering the boiling point to room temperature. That prevents the product from degrading, so all the hops and yeast character is retained. Then, he puts the batch through a secret aging process, which Kyrejko, like any great math-magician, is loath to divulge. “It’s not like I’m using some sort of flavoring agents or caramel coloring,” he says. “Just good old-fashioned science.”

The result is a rich brown liquor that can be proofed and bottled in two weeks as opposed to the typical year or more. And, unlike many of the other traditional beer whiskeys Kyrejko has tried, this one actually smells and tastes like the beer of origin.

If there is an ulterior motive to Kyrejko’s mad science, it’s that, in addition to being delicious, cool-sounding, and quick, vacuum distillation is also good for the environment. Since he doesn’t need to heat a kettle to 200-plus degrees, the whiskey sucks up a minimal amount of energy. His custom still, made entirely from glass, is 20 feet tall, but occupies only 4-by-6 feet in the corner of the building he shares with a Brooklyn brewery. He also doesn’t need space to store barrels for years at a time. That keeps overhead low in New York, where square footage is at a premium.

“I’m able to exist in the footprint of a stack of kegs in the brewery,” says Kyrejko. “And it uses so little energy, I’m essentially using their waste.”

Up until last month, Arcane put out just seven bottles a week, serving only a few clients throughout the city. But ever the tinkerer, Kyrejko built his first production-class machine in early November, one that will increase his output 70-fold and allow him to distribute the whiskey—and its science lesson—all over the country.

“It’s hard to have a conversation about green energy,” he says. “But if you give someone a glass of whiskey and tell them this took half as much energy and half as much time, you can have that conversation without their eyes glazing over.”


Tony Rehagen is a writer in St. Louis. His stories have appeared in Popular Mechanics, GQ, Men’s Health, and ESPN The Magazine. Email him at rehagentony@gmail.com.

Photography by Desiree Espada

Originally Published December 2017