Cask finishing is a process that has been used widely in Scotland for their spirits, but here in the United States, it’s a pretty new concept. Take an aged whiskey, throw it in a barrel that was previously used for something else, and let it soak up those other flavors. Not terribly difficult, just not terribly common on this side of the pond. But Kings County isn’t shying away from cask finishing — and they’re doing it with entirely New York-based products to boot.
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 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 to age 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 specific bottling, the whiskey is aged for a full two years in their barrels before being extracted. That spirit is then placed into a combination of casks that previously held wine pressed from Dornfelder and Blaufrankisch grapes (German and Austrian in origin) and sourced from the Channing Daughters winery in Bridgehampton, NY on the far end of Long Island. After a year, the resulting spirit is blended and bottled.
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.
Pouring a glass, I don’t really notice a huge difference from their standard straight bourbon. The color is the same, as is the aroma (brown sugar and vanilla, but a touch of apple instead of banana at the end).
Taking a sip, however, there’s definitely a difference here. It isn’t a huge swing in flavor profile, but it’s enough to be noticed.
The flavor starts out with the same charred brown sugar that I’ve talked about before, but it’s a smoother and sweeter version. There wasn’t a sharp edge to start, but now it’s even smoother than before. As you start to notice the flavors coming together, there’s a faint red wine note that starts singing out in the chorus. It’s not nearly enough to overpower the ensemble but more than enough to contribute.
I’d think you might be able to replicate the results with a wash of Cote du Rhone in your glass before pouring some whiskey in it.
The problem with this specific finishing process is that it’s very subtle. It absolutely adds something to the flavor when taken neat, but the rest of this review might as well be a copy and paste of the straight bourbon. The addition of a little bit of ice, or any of the mixers we’re going to use, just absolutely knocks out the impact the wine finishing has on the flavors.
So at this point, it’s a pretty standard bourbon. Brown sugar, vanilla, and a bit of banana. I’d call it pretty close to a glass of Gentleman Jack.
In fact, I’m going to spare you all the additional reading and omit the write-up of the Old Fashioned and the Mule and jump right to the overall rating here. If you’re interested in the results and haven’t already read our review of the standard straight bourbon, head to the link and check those out. (Spoiler alert: they’re pretty good but not earth-shattering.)
And if you have already read it, we won’t subject you to more scrolling through filler just to get to the rating.
I love when distilleries try new things. I feel like the adventure is half the fun, and even if you end up with something that isn’t necessarily a while lot different from the original then you’ve at least tried something interesting. That’s the same way I feel about this version of Kings County’s bourbon: it’s a good try, and I like where their head is at, but the results aren’t exactly knocking my socks off. The results are very subtly different from the original, and only really apparent when taken neat.
That said, it’s still worth the price of admission.
|Kings County Distillery Wine-Finished Bourbon|
Produced By: Kings County DistilleryProduction Location: New York, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: 3 Years
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $80 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
Not all experiments are home runs. Some are simply a base hit. That’s what we have here, and it certainly ain’t bad.