A guy from Kentucky moves to Brooklyn. Following the tradition of his origins, he starts making moonshine at home and brings it to friendly gatherings. People love it, word spreads, and soon enough the Village Voice is knocking at his door, asking about the homemade moonshine. Then it occurs to him – this could be a legit operation. At the time, however, there were no functioning whiskey distilleries in New York City. It turned out that a Prohibition-era law had put a damper on whiskey production in New York. But it also turned out that newer legislation had nullified the impact of the older law, but no one was taking advantage of the whiskey-making possibilities.
Years later, the Kentucky guy, Colin Spoelman, and his partners, David Haskell and David Nichols, founded Kings County Distillery. With their team of distillers – Matthew Million (also factory manager), Charlie Horwich, Andrew Lohfeld, Roxy Igolen, Samuel Bostick and Matthew “Snake” Lathan, blenders – Nicole Austin, Ryan Ciuchta and Angie Schmitz, operations managers – Becca Goldstein and Patrick Rutan, tasting room manager Brianna Halstead, and tour guide Mark Byrne, they have reintroduced whiskey and moonshine distilling to New York City. And that’s the reason I’m in the Brooklyn Navy Yard on a chilly March day, standing in front of the 115-year old building that houses the distillery, just a stone’s throw from the site of the Brooklyn Whiskey Wars.
Outside, the air is crisp. Inside, the air is humid and filled with a savory, grainy smell. Becca leads me through the distilling room, which holds the huge gourd-shaped copper stills from Scotland. While I peak over the giant oak tanks where whiskey is literally bubbling and fermenting before my eyes, Andrew Lohfeld pops around the room, mixing a steaming concoction, tasting distilled, pre-aged whiskey, and tending to other distilling duties. Becca shows me the batch of whiskey in which Mast Brothers’ cacao husks are being steeped like an oversized teabag. As this point, I’m either supremely excited or catching a contact high from all of these whiskey fumes before 11AM. We should probably go upstairs to the tasting room to sample some of this liquid gold. And we do – but first, a peek into the whiskey-aging room.
Kings County Distillery ages their spirits on site in oak barrels that are charred inside. I note various barrel sizes and Becca explains to me that the size determine the length of aging. Spirits inside the smaller barrels have higher ratio of liquid to surface area and require less aging. And so, stay with me here, the largest barrels are aging whiskey for the lengthiest periods of time. I also notice words like “pumpkin” and “Brandy” written on some of the barrels. This, it seems, is part of the fun of distilling – experimenting with different flavors, like pumpkin, and collaborating with other local producers, like Brooklyn Winery, to roll out new spirits like the Kings County Distillery Brandy (eh hem, named the 2015 Best-of-Class winner by the American Craft Spirits Association).
Moving on to the fun part of my gig, the tasting, I start with a sample of the Bourbon. I’ve had this before, at the Whisky Live event a few weeks back, and it’s as smooth and solid as I remember it, even at 11:30 AM. Next up is the Brandy. I’m not a Brandy girl. The only Brandy I’ve really had is the liquid tar I used to mix with Pepsi back in college. That, or in an overpriced Brandy Alexander, when I’m mostly enjoying the creme de cacao. In general, I think Brandy gets a bad rap as an old man’s after-dinner-with-a-stogie kind of spirit. I kid you not – this Brandy is good, pleasant even, and all by its lonesome self. And for journalistic thoroughness, I also try the Chocolate Whiskey. Whiskey-lovers, don’t be fooled – this whiskey is not sweet. The cacao adds the subtle bitterness of a strong chocolate. I’m talking the 85% cacao and above variety.
Kings County Distillery is open to the public for tours on Saturdays from 1pm to 4pm. Want to hang out with the Kings County Distillery team, help distill, and drink whiskey, brandy and moonshine for free? You can sign up to volunteer at the distillery and they will pay you in booze. Go and check out New York’s first distillery since Prohibition.
Kings County Distillery
Brooklyn Navy Yard, Bldg 121
63 Flushing Avenue, Box 379
Brooklyn, NY 11205
While we have you here, you might as well watch our first ever Whiskey Session with Kiyoshi from Rocket & The Ghost recorded at Kings County Distillery last year.
Article by: Caitlin Gunther