During a recent trip to New York, I paid a visit to the Kings County distillery in Brooklyn. It was a great experience, and naturally at the end of the tour we came to the tasting room. Faced with all the bottles on the shelf I asked them which was their personal favorite — land lets just say, I immediately purchased this bottle as a result of that recommendation.
Some sources state that Kings County Distillery is the oldest distillery in New York state, but in truth it was beaten by a solid five years by Tuthilltown Distillery in Gardiner. Kings County Distillery is the oldest distillery in New York City, founded in 2010 by Colin Spoelman and David Haskell in a small 330 square foot facility in East Williamsburg. They followed the same formula for craft distilleries pioneered by Tuthilltown, which takes advantage of a specific component of New York state law that allows for craft distilleries that use locally sourced ingredients. Through perseverance and hard work, they built a big enough following that within two years they had moved to a new warehouse in the Paymaster Building of the Brooklyn Navy Yards and imported a set of massive pot stills from Scotland to increase production.
The distillery remains a privately owned enterprise dedicated to experimenting with new and interesting flavors of whiskey.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
This whiskey starts out as a typical batch of bourbon from Kings County — but there’s some special stuff going on here.
The bourbon starts out as a mixture of 80% New York corn and 20% malted barley. Those grains are then cooked to release the sugars and fermented in large open fermentation tanks to take advantage of the naturally occurring yeast. From there, the mildly alcoholic “distiller’s beer” is pot distilled in Scottish built copper pot stills at the New York City distillery.
The newly created whiskey is placed into new charred oak barrels for aging for a period of at least one year, and this is where things start to take a turn. The whiskey is reportedly barreled at a lower proof than the legal limit, a process which results in less saleable whiskey — but it also improves the flavor considerably. For this bottling, the whiskey sits there for a full six years before being extracted, blended together for the right flavor profile, and bottled at cask strength without any dilution.
Only 300 bottles of this whiskey were produced.
I. Love. This. Bottle.
The #1 thing I always say about the packaging is that the whiskey should be the star of the show. Ultimately, that’s what you are buying — not a fancy label or a nifty bottle. In this case, the label contains the bare minimum information required by law, is incredibly tiny, and located down near the bottom of the bottle. Out of the way, simple, perfect.
I also really like that the type face they used for the label is a typewriter font. It adds to the image that this was something made in someone’s studio apartment (because, for real, it actually was made in a studio apartment for two years before their current facility) on a shoestring budget. It has a rustic and semi-historic feel to it and I’m here for it.
As for the bottle itself, you can tell that they put some money into it. The shape is good, a square construction with an angular shoulder and a short neck. The location where it was made and the distillery identification number are embossed into the glass, though — meaning this was a custom bottle and not just something they mass ordered from a warehouse. It’s a nice touch.
As soon as you pour yourself a glass, you’ll notice that this is a significantly darker and richer expression compared to their normal bourbon. The color alone is a dead giveaway, with a reddish tinge to the liquid that wasn’t present in the standard edition. The aroma is hint #2 — that brown sugar component is much stronger and more well-saturated, with a bit of cherry thrown in for good measure and just a hint of vanilla.
Fair warning when taking a sip: the alcohol content here is large and in charge. It’s a barrel strength bottling, which means instead of a playful ~45% alcohol content, this version comes loaded at 70% alcohol by volume. Nearly twice as strong as a regular whiskey, it hits you like a freight train on the first sip. Be forewarned and take it slow.
Those that make it past the initial alcohol bite will be rewarded with some rich, velvety flavors in the spirit. There’s some solid dark chocolate flavor in here, followed by a bit of charred brown sugar. From there, a touch of cherry and banana creep in to add some color, which is something I didn’t see in the neat taste with the standard edition bourbon.
Usually, I’m a little scared to add ice to a whiskey for fear that the flavors will wash out — but in this case, I was actually looking forward to it. Truth be told, taking the spirit neat was a little much for my taste buds, so having a bit of attenuation seems appropriate.
And it certainly does make a world of difference here. The flavors are all still present — the deep and rich dark chocolate, the charred brown sugar sweetness, even the cherry and banana fruitiness — but the alcohol content has been toned down to the point where it’s a more enjoyable experience. You can sip and savor it without fear.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I prefer a darker, richer bourbon for my cocktails. Specifically because I think that the darker, richer flavors provide a much better balance for the bitters, and tell a more interesting story. I like when the spirit is the star of the show instead of the mixers, and that’s what I usually get with the richer offerings.
In this case, that trend holds true. The interplay between the aromatics in the bitters and the dark chocolate makes for a delicious cocktail, something almost like a good maduro cigar. It’s rich and velvety smooth.
That said, I do think that this is a case where a bit of added sugar helps to balance the drink out — for the sake of fitting in my jeans, I usually try to avoid added sugar where I can, but this is one case where the spirit and the bitters are just a little too much for me, and a little sugar really does help balance it all out.
There are two things I’m looking for in a good mule. First, I’m looking for a good interaction and balance between the spirit and the ginger beer. And second, I’m looking that the spirit brings some unique qualities to the table that you don’t get in a vodka-based mule.
For the first part, I think the whiskey might actually be overpowering the ginger beer a little bit. I usually go for a 1:1 mix of ginger beer to whiskey, and in this case I think that’s way too much and the more traditional 1:2 mixture will probably work better. That said, even in the 1:1 ratio, the flavors are all present and accounted for. There’s the bright and cheerful ginger poking out from the cloudy dark chocolate like the sun trying to peek through on a cloudy day. It’s interesting and different, i a good way.
As for the “something different”, this is usually where I like to see a bit of rye content shine through in the finish… but there is no rye content here. Instead, what we get is some of those charred or dark chocolate notes lingering into the finish, which is indeed something we don’t see with vodka. So this checks all the boxes for a whiskey mule — by adding it’s own unique twists to all of those boxes.
On its own, this is a dark and brooding bourbon — if vampires drank whiskey (also, if vampires were real), this is what I’d expect them to drink. There’s a significant character to the bourbon, especially compared to the standard version we’ve reviewed previously.
The one caveat I’ll put is that taking this neat is almost like getting the hottest sauce on the menu for your wings. Sure, it’s powerful and impressive… but at that point, the strength of the burn is the overriding aspect that you are focusing on. This really needs a touch of ice or being mixed into a cocktail to truly shine.
|Kings County Distillery 6-Year Blender's Reserve
Produced By: Kings County DistilleryProduction Location: New York, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: 6 Years
Proof: 70% ABV
Price: $125 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
This is absolutely worth the price of admission. But if that price was under $100, I’d add another star.