After a bit of a bumpy year I welcomed the chance to take a few days off to head to NYC for “art week” a quick 3 day visit was planned with the bulk of the trip taken by the Armoury show , museum and gallery visits.
I wanted to squeeze in at least one distillery/brewery visit whilst there. So it was on a sunny but windy Saturday morning that I took a small detour to Brooklyn in order to visit the oldest distillery in New York since prohibition. An impressive statement if one is unaware that said distillery was established in 2010! Yet still makes them fairly experienced within this new wave of craft distilling and hey it’s their party and they can do what they want.
King’s county distillery is based out of the Brooklyn Navy Yards complex which also hosts, Mast brothers chocolate, Brooklyn coffee roasters, one of the largest rooftop farms as well as a plethora of other designers, manufacturers and ateliers. The distillery like many others in New York State were born from the impetus of “the farm distillery act” a progressive state law cutting the cost of a distillers license for those producing less than 35,000 gallons per year. This includes a host of incentives if they use 75% New York grown ingredients in their products.
There is a great Edible Manhattan article that provides more detail of the results of this progressive lawmaking. It’s easy to see how such measures are nothing but positive for entrepreneurs, local agriculture and the economy. Québec could prosper under such regulations, taking advantage of the bounty of our terroir and pushing forward entrepreneurship…ok back to our program.
The grounds also host a tasting room/bar that is independent of the distillery building. It’s beautifully put together and is open until 10pm making it both a destination and a clever way to try the products outside of distillery hours.
The tours costs 14$ and lasts about 40minutes, the place was rocking when I got there and our guide mentioned that she had never seen such a busy day. The tour is broken down into 4 parts, there is a small room almost like an old schoolhouse, where the guide begins by giving you a rundown of whisky production in America, and then integrates this into the story of the distillery itself started as a moonshining experiment gone legit. The room has photos and artifacts of whisky production, it also hosts the experimental collection of the distillery, there are two shelves full of various bottles of concoctions past or in progress, most labelled with painters tape (note my favourite on bottem shelf simply labelled “John’s…?”)
We are then taken downstairs into the heart of the distillery, the open air room is pretty tight quarters, it hosts their grinder, mash cooker and 5 wooden washbacks (built by local artisans who make those infamous water towers seen all over the city), 2 Scottish made pots stills by Forsyths. Halfway through our visit, our guides explanations were interrupted by the boss, that is the distillery’s adorable cat.
It’s then that I noticed a behemoth looking hybrid stainless steel /copper still in background made by Vendome copper works. I asked our guide about this, she said it isn’t yet operational since it requires an overhaul of the boiler, electrical and mash cooker. Once done they would use it as their wash still dividing the first distillate into their two current pot stills which would now operate as spirit stills, in theory doubling or tripling their current capacity.
The distillery is very low tech, the cuts, filling and barreling are all done by hand, there isn’t any automation or clever piping. The products destined to be aged are mostly filled in quarter casks with a small percentage going in full size American standard barrels and other types of casks (a wine casked bourbon was on offer when I was there a review is coming shortly). Otherwise the new make goes into stainless steel tanks for maceration or to be proofed down for their flagship moonshine.
For the third part of our journey our guide took us back upstairs to what she calls “the most instagrammable room in Brooklyn” that is the onsite aging room where barrels are laid out in a style akin to a dunnage warehouse. They also have another larger warehouse offsite that isn’t open to the public. We got to ogle barrels of their soon to be available rye, inhale that intoxicating aroma of resting whisky, wood and dampness.
We finally got to the tasting and it was most welcome, on offer were moonshine, the standard bourbon, chocolate whisky and their seasonal Christmas spiced whisky. We were then invited to peruse the store and buy some swag, after asking nicely I got a sneaky taste of their grapefruit jalapeño moonshine (perfect for summer drinks and an interesting sub for tequila) and the barrel proof bourbon.
The passion and love of whisky is strongly felt throughout and despite the hustle and bustle it’s definitely fun to be able to get up close and personal with the whisky making process. They make a style of bourbon that is truly their own (although sometimes young and raw) and the flavoured products aren’t a novelty or a way to attract non whisky drinkers. Each one is clearly thought out and chosen to bring something different to the table, it stands to reason that they are the recipient of the 2016 ADI’s Distiller of the year award and boast a pretty kick-ass master blender and trained chemist Nicole Austin.