Situated along the banks of the East River, Kings County Distillery is New York City's oldest operating whiskey distillery and the first distillery in New York City since Prohibition. Wedged between Williamsburg and Vinegar Hill, Colin Spoelman and David Haskell, the master distillers at Kings County, make hand-crafted bourbon and moonshine out of the 113-year old Paymaster Building at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
A typewriter the two distillers found on the sidewalk in Williamsburg is used to make the labels that adorn their clear, flask-like bottles, while a hairdryer (made by Revlon) is used to afix each bottle seal. Handwritten scrawls on a chalkboard keep track of different batches, and mesh laundry bags are used as strainers.
Kings County Bourbon is made from a mash of 70% organic, cracked corn that Spoelman and Haskell source from the Finger Lakes region in Upstate New York, and 30% barley. After milling and mashing the grains, the wash is slowly fermented at their distillery in blue tanks that resemble oil drums and then double-pot distilled. Haskell and Spoelman use the first alcohol produced from each batch — the "head" — as a disinfectant and sell the used mash to a pig farmer who uses it as feed. "I still don't understand why it doesn't make the pigs drunk," Haskell says.
After distilling the wash, Kings County Barrel-Strength Straight Bourbon is aged in five-gallon, charred American oak barrels upstairs at the Kings County distillery, which provides direct exposure to sunlight and encourages maximum interaction between the whiskey and the wood. This special barrel-strength bottling has been taken from some of the oldest barrels at the distillery (aged between two and four years) and is bottled at a robust 122 to 126 proof — one of the highest proofs of any American craft whiskey. As a result, Kings County Barrel-Strength Straight Bourbon has an aroma of clover honey, cornbread and spicy peppers. The palate is full of toffee, corn flakes and even coconut, and leads to a hearty finish accented by baked apples and caramel. Once the bourbon has been distilled, it is bottled, labeled and sealed by hand.