What I Learned At The Kings County Distillery

photo 2Last night, I checked out a special tour and tasting at the Kings County Distillery, in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard, as part of an Art Lab series that looks at the intersection of art and science. Micro-distilling is, like making any other fermented beverage in small batches or without too much machinery, an art that requires a refined palate and a sense of adventure. Here’s what I learned about Kings County that made me like them even more than I already did:

1) Kings was the first legal commercial distillery in New York. It was only in 2009 that the micro-distillery laws were passed, leading to the proliferation of whiskey, vodka, and absinthe distilling we’re seeing everywhere. Kings was the avant-garde!

2) Whiskey love is a new thing. In fact, vodka used to be all the rage in the U.S. until recently, when suddenly a renewed interest in mixology seems to have propelled a whiskey frenzy, which actually led to a bourbon shortage, as well as ridiculously inflated prices on certain bourbons.

3) What’s the difference between whiskey and vodka? Both are grain distillates, but whiskey must be 160 proof or lower, whereas vodka has to be 190 proof or higher. Hence, vodka is what you drink at high school hotel parties to get blackout drink; whiskey is for sophisticated sipping.

4) Kings has their home in the Navy Yard because the City was actually looking to make it into a manufacturing space–part of a broader policy initiative to preserve the industrial character of the Brooklyn Waterfront.

5) Whiskey, unlike wine, is never made with all wild yeasts (at least, there aren’t any on the market that people seem to be aware of) because it would take too long to ferment. So, if there is such a thing as terroir in whiskey, it would come from single-origin grains, but very few distillers do that.

photo 4

6) The master blender, Nicole Austin, is completely passionate, full of energy, and really funny, and I think always wears that plaid shirt she has on in this Time Out article.

Master blender Nicole Austin
Master blender Nicole Austin

7) The chocolate-whiskey that Kings County recently released is made with the discarded cocoa husks from Mast Brothers, who gifts them to the distillery in a remarkable gesture of re-purposing and neighborliness.

8) They have tours and tastings on Saturday, so you should go visit, but make sure you figure out how to get there first because I got lost in the Navy Yard during a brief snow storm and it was very eerie and not fun.


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