One of my favorite spirits is the Mother Pepper from Still Austin. It was a solid, spicy, unaged whiskey that worked amazingly well in cocktails, but unfortunately Still Austin has moved on to making aged spirits and don’t seem interested in making any more of the Mother Pepper. So when I saw that Kings County Distillery was producing a spicy, unaged whiskey… well, I began to hope that maybe I had finally found a replacement.
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.
The spirit starts out as a mixture of 80% New York organic corn and 20% English malted barley, which is the same grain bill used in their aged bourbons. 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.
From here, things take a bit of a turn. Some lucky runs of this spirit are put in charred oak barrels to become bourbon. Other runs are sold as-is and dubbed “moonshine.” In this case, though, the spirit is then infused with grapefruit and jalapeno to add flavor before being bottled.
I. Love. This. Bottle.
The #1 thing I always say about the packaging is that the whiskey (or whatever spirit is inside) 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 a square construction with an angular shoulder and a short neck and the location where it was made and the distillery identification number are embossed into the glass — meaning this was a custom bottle and not just something they mass ordered from a warehouse. It’s a nice touch.
The first thing you’ll notice about this spirit is that it isn’t exactly as clear as fresh spring water. Usually, unaged whiskey is nearly crystal clear (and having tried some of their stuff straight off the still, I can confirm that it does come out colorless). So what you’re seeing is actually some of the grapefruit and jalapeno that has been dissolved into the whiskey and suspended within, making it a touch cloudy and lime green.
Taking a whiff, the grapefruit and jalapeno aromas are front and center here. There’s a great interplay of sweet and spicy going on that smells very appealing. In fact, the herbaceous aspect of the jalapeno is making this smell very similar to a good tequila, only without the agave.
That wonderful interplay in the aroma doesn’t exactly translate into the flavor quite as well as I’d hoped, though. I get the jalapeno immediately and a bit of the spicy burn that comes with it (which I personally appreciate), but I think I’m only getting the bitter aspect of the grapefruit and not the sweetness. As for the whiskey flavors, there isn’t much that is contributed. Without something bold like a rye added to the grain bill, there’s no pepper spice or interesting notes — instead, it’s just a smooth base for the other flavors.
At this point, the whiskey is behaving pretty much exactly how I’d expect a tequila to behave.
With some added ice, the more delicate and less well-saturated flavors tend to drop out of the running. And that’s what is happening here as well, with the grapefruit note reduced to pretty much just a whisper.
The jalapeno remains large and in charge, though, and the herbal flavors associated with that ingredient are what make this more like a tequila than a whiskey. Those flavors remain well entrenched and don’t seem to be going anywhere.
If this whiskey is going to pretend to be a tequila, then that’s how we’re going to treat it! Into a margarita it goes.
Honestly, this is pretty good. The spicy aspect of the jalapeno comes through nicely, adding some depth and complexity to the cocktail that you don’t even get with a regular tequila. But it also hits the high notes of the usual margarita experience, specifically providing a nice herbal flavor for the Cointreau and the lime juice to partner with and produce some amazing flavor interactions.
Something I’m missing, though, is a bit of sweetness or vanilla. I prefer an anejo tequila in my margaritas because of the vanilla flavors that you get coming through, and I get none of that here. That might be something that could be improved by using a lightly aged whiskey in future iterations, though.
Overall, though, pretty dang good for a whiskey margarita!
While this might want to be a tequila, it is still a whiskey and needs to be tested in a mule. Especially so I can find out how it compares to the Mother Pepper whiskey.
Honestly, I think it falls a bit flat. There’s a depth and complexity that the Mother Pepper is able to achieve by blending multiple kinds of peppers in their mixture, and instead what we have here is just a spicy ginger beer.
The first thing I look for in a whiskey-based mule is a balance between the bright ginger beer and the whiskey… and in this case, there really isn’t that balance. That’s usually something that’s a result of the darker and richer aspects imparted from the barrel aging process, but because this isn’t barrel aged, there’s nothing to balance out. And the bitter grapefruit notes aren’t helping, either.
Where this does shine is in the unique flavors and the complexity. That jalapeno brings some interesting aspects to the party and is definitely worth a try.
I love when distilleries experiment with new ideas, and I think this is an experiment that went mostly right. There are some great aromas in here, and the jalapeno component is a very nice addition, but I’m not getting much of the grapefruit in the flavor (with the exception of a little bit of bitterness).
I think they’re on the right track here, but if I could make a suggestion: swapping out the grapefruit for something a little less bitter and a little sweeter would probably be a good idea. If they’re only doing some maceration and not re-distilling the results, then I think using maybe some kiwi or mango would be a better choice.
That said, I’m still going to drink all of this in margarita form. And enjoy every minute.
|Kings County Distillery Grapefruit Jalapeno|
Produced By: Kings County DistilleryProduction Location: New York, United States
Classification: Flavored Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $49 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
A great experiment worth trying as a tequila replacement in the cocktail of your choice.