A Look At Kings County Distillery

Bottles clank and the smell of hot, mashed corn permeates the air. A lazy fan whirs, complimenting the constant hum of the stills that are directly behind me. In front of me stands Colin Spoelman, moonshiner.

Colin Spoelman

I may feel as though I’m in the back woods of Kentucky, but I’m actually standing in the middle of a Bushwick, Brooklyn, warehouse—the 300 square-foot stifling hot space is home to Kings County Distillery, Brooklyn’s first post-prohibition distillery.

Kings County Distillery

Kings County Distillery II

The distillery is young—about a year old—but has already been wildly successful, selling their small-batch corn whiskey and, more recently, bourbon, to New York City bars, restaurants, and liquor stores.

In fact, when we first learned of Kings County back in December, we had to wait for more than two weeks before Astor Wines & Spirits had the moonshine back in stock.

Tasting Room

“Nobody is a moonshiner if they’re just doing it as a hobby,” says Spoelman, a thin, blond 30-something, who is one of the distillery’s co-owners. “I think a moonshiner is always scheming some way to do business.”

Spoelman, a Kentucky native, grew up fascinated by the stuff and knew that it would have a viable market in the big city. In fact, prior to purchasing his own still, Spoelman even contemplated a moonshine importation business.

“That is so illegal,” he says, laughing. “Taking something that was already illegal and then transporting it across state lines seemed like a really bad idea.”

Testing Alcohol Content

Percent Proof

Spoelman, who has worked professionally as both an architect and a filmmaker, later purchased his own still off the Internet and, with the help of a book, set out distilling. He first distilled wine, and after making some admittedly “gross stuff,” he finally created what he thought to be pretty good moonshine.

David Haskell, a friend of Spoelman’s and a senior editor at New York Magazine, happened to agree and Kings County Distillery was born shortly thereafter.

Running The Stills

Mashing Corn

At the time the duo began, laws had just changed that allowed them to purchase a farmer’s distillery license and set up shop in Brooklyn. Their first (and current) two-room set-up is nestled in an industrial area of Bushwick, on the fringe of Williamsburg.

Their light-filled space is small, but it does allow Spoelman, Haskell and their small staff just enough room to store their corn—they go through about 3,000 pounds per month, run their stills, age their bourbon and bottle their moonshine.

Aging Bourbon

The bourbon is aged for nine months and is currently only available directly from the distillery, which is open to the public for tours and tastings on select dates. It’s not for sale, but you can also taste a distiller’s proof—moonshine aged for five weeks, rather than 36 weeks.

Chalkboard Walls

Tools & Bottles

It’s apparent from the moment you step into Kings County, that every bottle churned out is meticulously- and expertly-crafted. The tables are strewn with tools you may not have seen since your 10th grade science class—funnels, beakers, test tubes, and thermometers are among them, and all are used to make sure that each batch of whiskey or bourbon is exactly the same.

The impressive dedication to detail continues right down to the thick, industrial-style glass bottles and typewriter labels, affixed by hand to each bottle.

Tasting

“It’s a lemonade stand, in a certain sense,” says Spoelman. “You buy lemons and you buy sugar and you figure out where to put the stand so that more people come visit it.”

Spoelman’s so-called “lemonade stand” is well worth the visit.

- Laura

10 Comments

  1. Daily Links from the Selectism Staff | Selectism.com
    May 25, 2011 @ 21:36:07

    [...] “Bottles clank and the smell of hot, mashed corn permeates the air. A lazy fan whirs, complimenting the constant hum of the stills that are directly behind me. In front of me stands Colin Spoelman, moonshiner.” (Smith Ratliff). [...]

    Reply

  2. Selectism | Around the Web
    May 25, 2011 @ 22:00:47

    [...] “Bottles rattle as well as a smell of hot, crushed corn permeates a air. A quiescent air blower whirs, complimenting a consistent sound of a stills which have been without delay during a back of me. In front of me stands Colin Spoelman, moonshiner.” (Smith Ratliff). [...]

    Reply

  3. Selectism | Around the Web
    May 25, 2011 @ 22:01:49

    [...] “Bottles clank and the smell of hot, mashed corn permeates the air. A lazy fan whirs, complimenting the constant hum of the stills that are directly behind me. In front of me stands Colin Spoelman, moonshiner.” (Smith Ratliff). [...]

    Reply

  4. A Few Random Morning Links … | The Pretense of Knowledge
    May 26, 2011 @ 05:06:19

    [...] A Look At Kings County Distillery [...]

    Reply

  5. George H.
    May 26, 2011 @ 13:51:32

    I tried to get the moonshine at Astor as well and was out of stock. Really excited to try the bourbon.

    Reply

    • Smith & Ratliff
      May 27, 2011 @ 10:28:17

      George, the bourbon is delicious. Here’s hoping it will be in stores soon. The guys at Kings Co. said they already can’t keep up with the demand!

      Reply

  6. yummy supper
    May 26, 2011 @ 23:17:33

    So funny to read this….I’ve been thinking of trying to brew my own lately. Not sure that I am up to scheming about doing business, but homemade spirits sound really good.
    Kings County looks great. Wish we were closer to NY to give it a try.
    Gorgeous photos. Love your blog. I’ll definitely be back.
    -E

    Reply

    • Smith & Ratliff
      May 27, 2011 @ 10:27:34

      Erin, thank you so much for your kind words. I have to say: I’m in awe of your family’s travels and adventures. I hope that when we have a family one day, we can do what you are doing. Please let us know if you ever do come through NYC! – LR

      Reply

  7. Brandi {not your average ordinary}
    May 28, 2011 @ 12:55:23

    Beautiful photographs. Do you think he’s looking for an intern? I’d so love to be an assistant moonshiner. Best job title ever. Okay, maybe chocolate maker may give it a good challenge.

    Reply

  8. Kings County Distillery at Deker Daily
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 23:11:14

    [...] Look at Smithratliff.com’s documentation of Kings County Distillery. [...]

    Reply

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