A visit to King’s County Distillery
Here we go…..
Welcome to Kings County Distillery .. in Brooklyn!
It is actually the oldest running distillery since Prohibition Era and it was funded in 2010….
As the sun was setting in a vast purple and pink sky, Spiritsfully finally made it to the Navy Yards where the Distillery is located since 2012. I’ve been welcomed by Lia, a Bourbon sommelier who started the conversation with many stories about whiskey tax, bourbon or booze war.
Since when is there distilleries in that area of the US?
Distillation is huge in the US but the story of distilleries is rather short. Distillation as we know it today is the child of the European late middle age, so it couldn’t be happening in the Americas before massive European invasion (no distillation tools dated back to before their arrival are known so far).
The Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam distilled a kind of Dutch Genever, a grain-based gin infused with local botanicals like hops and juniper berries.
And the first registration of a distillery did not take place before the year of 1640. Mr Hirst registered a distillery that year on Staten Island inaugurating a series of similar enterprises opening all over the state of New York, and most of all, in Brooklyn.
What was distilled in the US at that time ?
Many types of ancestors of whiskey but most of all rum. Until the end of the English colonization, rum was the most produced spirit as part of a triangular business involving slavery, sugar cane plantation, etc etc. It changed after the Independence by the end of the 18th century. The English gone, rum failed in disgrace and was replaced by a spirit easier to produce, specially in a no cash economy, where barter was the rule and excess of harvest could simply not been thrown away. The farmers start distilling their surplus of crops and slowly but surely American whiskey was born.
I’m not gonna get further into history, I’ll keep it for a future post, specially when spirit 101 will start a series on whiskey. for the moment, what is relevant for today’s discovery and visit to the King’s county Distillery is that mid 19th century, many distilleries were running in Brooklyn, especially all around the Navy Yards.
One of the neighborhoods is Vinegar Hills, it was the home of many Irish immigrants who came from Ireland … with their stills. And not without provoking troubles (Brooklyn whiskey wars anyone?).
Brooklyn whiskey wars
In the late 19th Century Brooklyn was the theatre of many battles between the Irish immigrant moonshiners who refuse to pay the federal taxes imposed on their stills and the federal troops that stationed in the Navy Yard. The soldiers whenever they entered the neighbourhoods surrounding their barracks were receiving furniture or other object on their heads. And interestingly this is where Al Capone grew up…
A long read about the war from the Smithsonian website
What happened in 2007
Let’s fast forward. We’re early 2000s, and as we saw in a former post, the law changed in 2007 and 2009. It was becoming affordable to obtain a licence and possible to distill in a city even though you were not a farmer, as soon as you were using grains from NY state. Two friends -David Haskell, a magazine editor and Colin Spoelman, a former architect- who were distilling in their Bushwick home took this opportunity, and this is how King’s county is, despite being quite young, the oldest running distilleries in Brooklyn since the Prohibition Era !!!
And now, the slide show!