Whiskey Review: Kings County Distillery Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Kings County Distillery in New York seems to focus heavily on experimental bottlings: different finishing techniques, unique grains used in the process, all sorts of oddness. But before you start experimenting, its imperative that you start with a good baseline — and that’s exactly what their Straight Bourbon Whiskey is (and why we’re testing out today).


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History

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, though, 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.

Product

The bourbon starts out as a mixture of 80% New York organic corn and 20% English 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 which also improves the flavor considerably.

For this bottling, the whiskey is aged a minimum of two years but the exact age is not disclosed.

Packaging

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 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.

Neat

This is a nice, sweet smelling whiskey. There’s a good bit of brown sugar in the aroma which is the very first thing I get, followed by a bit of vanilla, and then just a hint of banana in the end adding a slight touch of fruit.

Taking a sip, the flavor profile is a bit darker and richer than the aroma lets on. The first flavor I’m getting is a bit of charred brown sugar, like the top of a crème brulee. From there, a little bit of dark chocolate follows, accompanied by a touch of vanilla. The flavors remain well saturated throughout the experience, finishing smoothly with just a touch of malty goodness on the end.

On Ice

As you’d expect with a little bit of ice, the flavors in here are changing and evolving. The darker and richer aspects are becoming less prominent, which is simultaneously a good thing and a bad thing.

On the one hand, with some ice, this is acting much more like a “standard” bourbon. There isn’t the same charred-sugar flavor in here anymore, instead its much closer to the expected brown sugar and baking spices you’d see in any other bourbon.

The difference is that, in a typical bourbon, those flavors are present when taken neat and then they fall apart with some ice. Here, those flavors are the “worst case scenario” result after the ice is added. So I’d still say this is outperforming it’s peers.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

This makes a pretty good old fashioned. It isn’t the greatest I’ve ever had, but it’s certainly enjoyable.

In this case, it hits all the requirements I’d expect out of a standard drink: good balance to the flavors, good saturation… but there’s nothing special going on. Normally, I like to see a bit of black pepper spice or extra rich darkness that adds some smoke to the mix, but this is just a bog standard old fashioned.

Fizz (Mule)

Following the pattern from the old fashioned cocktail, this is a downright drinkable mule. It isn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it’s for sure something I’d have again.

The thing I’m really looking for here is that the flavors balance out. The sweetness and the darkness from the bourbon should be able to balance out the brightness of the ginger beer without being overpowering, and that’s what I get. The flavors are great, and it’s for sure something that would go very nicely as a poolside cocktail.

But once again, I’m missing the depth and complexity. There’s no uniqueness that this brings to the finish, no peppery spice to keep things interesting. It’s just a smooth and delicious ride.


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Overall Rating

With craft distilleries these days, there’s a tendency to go hard in the darker and richer flavors. I usually don’t complain (as I’m a fan of that flavor profile), but it can be a bit overpowering or even unpleasant. What they’ve done here is toe that line perfectly — producing a bourbon that’s darker and richer than the average spirit on the shelves, but without straying so far from the path that the average bourbon drinker would reject it.

On its own, this is a really good bourbon, and definitely worth the price. But what I keep going back to is the fact that this isn’t just a one-off bourbon; this is the base for their experimentation. And in that light, I think they hit the nail on the head by creating something that is a fantastic start to experiment with.

Kings County Distillery Straight Bourbon
Production Location: New York, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $69 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 4/5
A solid straight bourbon that’s guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser, and an excellent base for future experiments.


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