AS IT TURNS OUT, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Not for the father-and-daughter team of Charlie and Jenny Solberg, who turned a long-time family hobby into a lucrative business at Rhine Hall. The apple brandy distillery and cocktail bar just west of the Fulton Market’s dining district on Fulton Street opened last fall and has ramped up group sessions since the start of the new year. "We knew we had a quality product, it was just a matter of getting the business started," says Jenny.
So a year and a half ago, the Hall’s co-owner moved back home from San Francisco and helped her father begin the process, using the skills she had gained as a sales and marketing rep for a tech company and building the Hall after a model she gleaned from her many times visiting Napa Valley wine country. "I love being able to learn about the whole process behind the drink, tasting it in different varieties and then being able to walk out with a bottle," she says. "That’s what we do for all our guests."
ILM+E: How did the family first get started in distilling apple brandy?
JS: "We had spent some time in Europe when my dad was trying to get another business off the ground in Austria. In his spare time, he played hockey at a rink called Rhine Hall, hence the inspiration for the name. Apple brandy is not as common in the U.S., but it’s really popular [in Austria] since that region is very abundant with apple trees, so we learned it from the locals and it became a hobby for us. Now that we have the equipment, it’s just a matter of time before we start trying new fruit brandies and infusions."
ILM+E: What kind of drinks can apple brandy be used for?
JS: "With our cocktail program at Rhine Hall, we offer Apple Brandy Old Fashioneds, Bixby’s Double (equal parts cider apple brandy mixed with bitters), a hot toddy with ginger tea, lemon- and cinnamon-infused apple brandy and another drink which uses apple brandy infused with berries, lemon and simple syrup served shaken and chilled."
ILM+E: What can groups get out of the experience at Rhine Hall?
JS: "First, we can do a group event any day or night we are not open to the public, which currently is Thursdays from 5-9 p.m. and Saturdays from 2-7 p.m. Our program allows guests to actually see the distillery behind glass walls and learn about how it’s made, so there’s an educational component. We also give prescheduled tours on Saturdays and have a tasting session in our cocktail area, which can fit up to 50 comfortably. We don’t serve food, but we allow people to bring in cheese platters (Pastoral across the street is great for that!) and are open to coordinating catering with outside companies as well. … The great thing about our tasting room is that it has so much more narrative and more discussion than your regular bar."