A few steps from the site of the 1860s Whiskey Wars, in an 117 year old Paymaster building in Brooklyn’s Naval Yard, lies Kings County Distillery – New York’s oldest operating whiskey distillery, and the first to be built since prohibition. It was founded in 2010 by college friends Colin Spoelman and David Haskell who were rather fond of moonshine. After several successful parties laced with bootlegged Kentucky booze from Colin’s hometown of Harlan, they started to distill their own. It proved to be so popular that they turned their (totally legit) hobby into a bonafide business. The distillery started life in a small unit in East Williamsburg before they expanded to the Naval Yard in 2012.
Of all the craft distillers in the nation, none makes bourbon more delicious than Kings County Wine and Spirits Magazine 2015 (Spirit of the Year)
Their method takes inspiration from scotch distillers. Alongside the key ingredient of 100% organic New York corn, they use an above average amount of UK malted barley (no wheat or rye), and distill with copper pot stills built by Forsyths in Scotland. They are rightly proud of their unique Peated Bourbon, a scotch / bourbon hybrid of sorts made with malted barley that has been exposed to peat smoke. A single malt whiskey was also released at the end of 2016.
Open-top fermentation takes place in traditional wood fermenters built locally by Isseks Bros. After double distillation in the pot stills, they age the spirit in new, charred American oak barrels – for a minimum of 2 years for the bourbon, 2-4 years for barrel-strength, and 4+ years for the Bottled-in-Bond expression.
We rocked up unannounced on a Friday lunchtime and settled straight in to an informal tasting in the stunning turreted gatehouse (pictured above) which opened in 2016. It’s a beautiful space (first opened in 1896) with an atmospheric, fairy-lit garden out the back for enjoying one or two of their bespoke cocktails on site. They hold regular tours, tastings and events, both in the gatehouses and the distillery itself, if you want to plan ahead.
We started off by tasting their unaged moonshine (80% NY corn, 20% UK malted barley), followed by drams of the bourbon (aged for two summers), the peated (mentioned above), some boozy barrel-strength bourbon (57.9%), and an unusual bottle of jalapeno grapefruit moonshine that’s a great substitute for tequila in margaritas. Depending on the season or availability, you may also be able to pick up honey moonshine, winter spice whiskey, or chocolate whiskey (infused with cacao bean husks from the nearby Mast Brothers chocolate factory).
Absolutely spot on corn whiskey; sweet, clean, berry-fruit, very well made and does exactly what it says on the tin (92=brilliant). Jim Murray's Whiskey Bible 2013
Keen for more, we were kindly allowed to have a nose around the stills and barrels in the Paymaster building before being subjected to some exciting special releases and experiments. Most interesting was the Bottled-in-Bond expression, an old definition which requires the bourbon to be distilled, aged and bottled entirely at one distillery, from barrels filled in one season, by one distiller. The whiskey must be at least 4 years old, and be bottled at 100 proof exactly. The Bottled-In-Bond style was originally brought in to protect consumers from brands that were taking shortcuts, and bottling and blending whiskies that weren’t their own.
Despite being less than 10 years old (at the time of writing!), Kings County Distillery already have a wonderful range of whiskey on offer, and there’s nowhere better to sample it than at the distillery itself. I highly recommend you pay them a visit next time you are in New York, and pick up a bottle or two whilst you are at it!
Kings County Distillery – kingscountydistillery.com
299 Sands Street, Bldg 121, Brooklyn, NY 11205
P.P.S. If you fancy making your own whisky at home, you might want to have read of their guide to urban mooshining first! Click here for more info.