Kings county distillery tour

If the local bar menus and foodie blogs are any indicator of what’s popular, then it should go without saying that the combination of artisanal booze and Brooklyn is a match made in heaven. Brooklynites love anything local that’s made in small batches. Add to the mix a high alcohol content and reclaimed wood and you’ve got a recipe for success. Kings County Distillery has cashed in big on the current maker culture taking over Brooklyn. But to say this local producer is just riding the wave is false. Kings County Distillery is Brooklyn’s oldest whiskey distillery and has paved the way for the deluge of upstart, local distilleries that have opened across the city in recent years. Watch this video for a tour inside Kings County Distillery.

History of Kings County Distillery

The Brooklyn Navy Yard is home to New York City’s oldest operating distillery, Kings County Distillery, which was just founded in 2010. In 2009, New York state loosened laws that had been restricting local production of alcohol since the time of prohibition. Colin Spoelman, a Williamsburg resident born and bred in Kentucky, and David Haskell, an editor at New York Magazine, immediately saw a business opportunity.  Shortly thereafter, Brooklyn’s first micro-distillery was born.

Originally the distillery operated out of a tiny, 325-square foot room in East Williamsburg and claimed the title as the country’s smallest commercial distillery. In 2012, Kings County Distillery moved to the Brooklyn Navy Yards where it now occupies the 100-year old Paymaster Building, which was where naval officers went to collect their paychecks.

The Whiskey Wars in Brooklyn

The building is just a stone’s throw from the site of the Whiskey Wars of the 1860s. At the time, Vinegar Hill and the area surrounding the Navy Yards, then known as Irishtown, figured as the epicenter of illegal bootlegging activity in the city. The distilleries there notoriously evaded taxes and then illegally distributed spirits throughout Brooklyn and across the city.

In 1869, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, forebears to the IRS, dispatched soldiers from the Navy Yards to raid Vinegar Hill and crack down on this illegal activity. In the wake of the raids, Vinegar Hill’s cobblestone streets were strewn with cracked barrels, broken windows and pools of corn mash. The wars continued for two more years until the death of a revenue officer lead the opposing sides to agree to a ceasefire.

Production at Kings County Distillery

Kings County Distillery is licensed by the state of New York as a farm distillery, which means they must source at least 75 percent of the raw materials they use from in-state crops. As a result, their mash mainly consists of cracked, organic corn from upstate New York, which is then combined with boiling water, barley imported from England and yeast. The mash ferments in wooden vats built by Isseks Brothers, a century-old name in local water tank production and the company behind most of the water tanks you see in New York City. It’s then distilled twice using traditional Scottish copper stills. The bourbon is set to age for at least two years and up to 12 years.

The humble operation continues to grow rapidly, attracting major awards and droves of visitors to their tap room, and now distributes internationally. Despite the expanding reach of the distillery, its spirit remains local.

About NYC Uncovered

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