One of the more unusual things we did in Brooklyn was a visit to New York’s first new whiskey distillery since the Prohibition era, Kings County. Tucked away in the paymasters’ building at DUMBO’s Navy Yard, the distillery has only been open since 2010. It’s starting to get a reputation for small-batch quality and the product is now stocked in many of Brooklyn’s bars and restaurants.
The tour began at the imposing entrance to their premises. Cofounder of the business, Colin Spoelman, started by giving us a fascinating potted history of distilling in the USA and explained how he came to set up the business. He was essentially a home-moonshiner from Kentucky who was moved to set up officially when state laws dropped the previously huge taxes and setup fees for a new distillery.
We wandered to the tiny ‘corn field’ to the side of their building. This corn isn’t really used for their everyday production: there’s nowhere near enough space to grow what they need, but they just requested to use the land for fun. They may brew a special edition whiskey with this year’s harvest.
Our next stop was the distillery itself. Here the corn (several tons a month come from an upstate farm) is cooked up with barley and yeast, then left a little while so the yeast can eat up the natural sugars in the corn, creating alcohol. Then it’s distilled twice in the ‘stills’: they are currently in the process of upgrading their production from the smaller metal tanks to the much larger copper kettles in the middle of the space.
Helper kitty keeps the mice away.
Colin then led us upstairs to the barrel room, which drew collective oohs from the small tour group. Ageing in oak barrels is what gives the clear alcohol its amber colour and depth of flavour. Colin explained that a longer ageing doesn’t necessarily result in a better whiskey and that the temperature fluctuations in the barn mean the liquid can absorb better from the wood. They constantly taste from the barrels until the required flavour profile – a balance of spice and caramel tones – has been reached.
At the end back in the tasting room, there’s a small exhibit of the history of the area and whiskey in NYC – hilariously dubbed the Boozeum – and shelves of the lingering remains of experimental batches. The hand-typed labels and small-batch approach remind me of London’s very own Kernel brewery. We also got to sample the final product in its unaged (moonshine) and aged forms. Now I’m not a whiskey fan but I really did like the ‘chocolate’ version, with Mast Brothers cocoa nibs thrown into the barrel. They imparted just a hint of sweetness and warmth. Josh bought a couple of bottles to bring home. It was a great tour and fascinating to learn the history and processes of distilling. Tours run informally every Saturday afternoon and are well worth a visit.