I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for New York whiskey. I grew up in the state and, while I do enjoy the breakfast tacos and lack of snow here in Texas (this past February notwithstanding), part of me will always be a New Yorker. So when I heard about Kings County Distillery and its reputation for creativity — and especially when I heard about their peated bourbon (a concept I’d never heard of before) — I knew I needed to try some.
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.
According to legend, this whiskey only exists by pure coincidence.
Bourbon is typically made with a majority of corn mixed with some other grains. Usually, those ‘other grains’ are rye and a small amount of malted barley, but there’s been a recent trend of using wheat as well. In this case, according to the aforementioned legend, Kings County was trying to create a bourbon but couldn’t quite get all of the corn they needed for the run they wanted to do. Seeing an opportunity to use some cheaper and more available malted barley that had been peat smoked (as you’d typically see in a scotch whisky), they bought it up and added it to the mix.
The result is a grain bill that’s 70% New York corn, 15% Golden Promise malted barley, and 15% peat smoked 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, but the actual time it sits in the barrel is not disclosed. 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.
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, you can tell that they put some money into it. The shape is good, overall 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, meaning this was a custom bottle and not just something they mass ordered from a warehouse. It’s a nice touch.
Right off the bat, this smells just like a good bourbon should. There’s the brown sugar and vanilla that you’d expect, but it seems to be much more saturated and thick than a normal bourbon. There’s also some interesting notes around it — a bit of honey (no doubt thanks to the malted barley), a good helping of baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and a little hint of apple in the background.
Taking a sip, this no longer just has my interest… now it has my full attention.
That peated malted barley is doing some very novel things with this flavor profile. Normally, I’d expect something sweet and spicy from a bourbon — instead, this is a rich experience that has some depth and some darkness to it. That peat smoke starts out almost on its own, like you just walked into a Scottish pub and have that first wave of peat smoke waft over you. Then the other flavors start to contribute, including a touch of toffee caramel and some vanilla (the usual suspects of a bourbon) that seem to be just a bit more serious than in other expressions. As those flavors coalesce and develop, the end result is a finish that’s almost exactly like a black cup of coffee that’s had a small dollop of vanilla added.
What we have is a rich, dark, well saturated experience. But without a lot of the charred oak notes and bitterness that you see from other well aged bourbons. It hits those same notes, but with far less likelihood to be unpleasant.
With a bit of ice, things typically change and mellow out a bit when it comes to the flavor of a whiskey. In this case, though, there really aren’t any light flavors to eliminate; instead, what’s happened instead is that the darker and richer aspects have been slightly toned down and the whole experience seems to have been evened out.
Where before there was a bit of a development to the flavors in the spirit, it’s more of a homogeneous experience now. That same peat smoky flavor mixed with the toffee caramel from the bourbon is present throughout from start to finish, and the coffee flavor at the end has been significantly reduced.
I think I prefer this neat, but this at least gives us a good idea that we might get some interesting cocktail combinations out of it.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
When I think of a darker, richer, smokier old fashioned, this is pretty close to what I imagine.
The flavors in here are doing a great job balancing out. There’s just enough brightness and fruitiness in the angostura bitters to add a bit of life to the peaty and rich flavors and, while it does balance nicely, the equilibrium point is on the darker side of the spectrum. It feels like something that would go over well in a cigar bar or a dark cocktail lounge, something with thick leather chairs and jazz in the background.
A bit of cherry as a garnish would go well here, but I could also see going with a bit of candied apple. That apple flavor I noted up front seems to be back here, and I think accentuating it would make for a smoky-apple experience. Perfect for The Big Apple itself.
There’s two things I look for in a good mule. The first is that the flavors of the spirit balance well against the ginger beer and lime. Secondly, it needs to bring something unique to the party.
In the first case, this absolutely does balance nicely. There’s still enough sweetness in the toffee caramel to tone down the brash ginger beer, but there’s also that rich darkness to the flavors that helps calm things down a bit as well.
As for the novelty, that’s once more the peat smoke coming through loud and clear. Normally, with a bourbon based mule, I look for something like a black pepper spice from some rye content; but here, instead that smoky character permeates through all the other flavors and blends them together in a way that makes for an all around smooth and delicious experience.
I love experimentation, and doubly so when it’s experimentation that comes from necessity. In this case, I think this whiskey is a delicious happy accident: a blending of things that don’t normally go together that somehow strangely make a whole far more than the sum of its parts. I love the independent spirit of this distillery, their willingness to take a chance, and their work ethic to make things happen even when they only have 300 square feet of space. It’s the complete package: a good story, from good people, that make a great product.
|Kings County Distillery Peated Bourbon|
Produced By: Kings County DistilleryProduction Location: New York, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $50 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 5/5
This might be the best thing to come from New York City since the Mets won in ’86.