• About A Place: Kings County Distillery

    Kings County Distillery is a fairly young whiskey distillery opening in 2010, but it has the bragging rights of being the first distillery within New York City limits since prohibition. Kings County Distillery recently released an awesomely detailed book all about making and drinking whiskey, which could be a great gift this holiday season (hint, hint). We were able to take a tour of the facility and sit down with co-founder Colin Spoelman to talk about how the distillery was founded and how he prefers his whiskey.
    Photos by Johnny Knapp

    Could you share a little bit of background about yourself? 
    I grew up in Kentucky, but more the coal-mining, moonshine part of Kentucky than the horse-racing bourbon part. It was a dry county, so we would get our alcohol from bootleggers—not necessarily people up in the woods making moonshine, but driving over to Virginia to buy whatever high school kids and alcoholics were drinking. I moved to New York and had some moonshine that I had acquired down in Kentucky and shared it with people, and got really interested in moonshine, which means any illegally-made spirit, but can also mean un-aged whiskey. So, by starting with whiskey that didn't have to age and perfecting that, I got interested in its history and culture as well.

    What inspired you to make whiskey your full-time job? 
    Well, it's not my full-time job just yet. The distillery is still a very young company, but we're growing fast, so hopefully very soon. Still, it's not necessarily that I set out to start a business, or a craft distillery. I just wanted to make whiskey, and because that is illegal, starting a commercial distillery is the only way to go about it. But it was also a good time in the history of spirits to be getting into whiskey. 

    What changes have you seen within the whiskey industry and community?
    I think the image of the "rocking chair distiller" or the "great old master distiller in a long family line who never goes into the factory but spends a lot of time in a gift shop signing bottles" has had its day. People are much more interested in the technical, scientific, and creative aspects of whiskey making. 

    What was the inspiration of sharing your secrets of distilling whiskey through your recent book? 
    We're living in a culture where "secret recipes" are kind of suspicious, and we want more transparency and openness from producers. Whiskey is especially prone to fudging the truth, where often the same bulk-distilled whiskey is sold as any number of different labels. And because laws still forbid home distilling, it takes a very deliberate act of civil disobedience to homebrew whiskey, but it's very rewarding. Still, I think the book is helpful to anyone who wants to know more about whiskey, not just the aspiring home distiller. 

    How did you become so knowledgeable in the field?
    I knew very little about whiskey 10 years ago, but because I was from Kentucky people expected me to know about bourbon. I tried to learn, but once you scratch the veneer, there's a lot of confusion and mythology that took a long time to sort through. I think that whiskey, because of this mythology, can be very pretentious, but it's a flimsy pretense. So the book is about trusting your instincts, throwing away what you've heard, and appreciating whiskey on your own terms. 

    What brought you to setting up shop in New York City? How does your location help? 
    Nothing specific to New York, other than that's where I was living. It's probably true that if I'd stayed in Kentucky, I wouldn't have started a distillery. But I'm a Kentuckian that lives in New York, and Brooklyn has a great creative scene right now, one that is certainly easy to mock, but is also home to plenty of genuine people who are making great things, from art and music to food and booze. One great thing that we have is a lot of international culture in New York, so we have a global exchange. While there are plenty of people in the US that are appalled by the idea of bourbon made outside of Kentucky, international consumers don't necessarily have that same prejudice—they go for what tastes good. So it's more open-minded, but also a very discerning city. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, or so they say. I don't think they were talking about bourbon, but they might as well have been. 

    Are there any new or limited edition spirits we can look forward to in the near future?
    Right now at the distillery we have three limited edition products: a peated bourbon, which is sort of a cross between a scotch and a bourbon; a brandy that we made in collaboration with Brooklyn Winery; and a barrel-proof rye. These are all really excellent products that are so limited, we only sell them in the tasting room. But we have a couple of things that we expect in stores next year: a single-malt, scotch-style whiskey, and four-year old bourbon that will be released as a bottled-in-bond bourbon, which is a 1906 law designed to protect consumers: whiskey can only carry the bottled-in-bond designation if it was distilled at the distillery on the bottle. 

    How do you take your whiskey? And how would you recommend someone new to whiskey take it? 
    I really feel like people should drink whiskey however they wish. I wouldn't tell someone how to take their coffee. It's really just what you enjoy. I drink whiskey neat in the winter, and with an ice cube in the summer, but cocktails are fine. I think we put a lot of time and effort into our whiskey, so it drinks well on its own, but I think making the whiskey is just the first step in appreciation. One thing I recommend is blind tasting. It's great to know the backstory of whiskies, but you can also learn a lot by tasting them on an even playing field. Some cheap whiskey is great; some expensive whiskey is unimpressive or may not suit you: you just have to learn what you like.

    Be sure to stop by Kings County Distillery if ever in the area to see how their whiskey is made and for a chance to sample all of the beverages available. Also, don't miss their book "Guide to Urban Moonshining."

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