Since prohibition began, New York City has been importing their hard liquor from other parts of the country. There doesn't seem to be a real reason, other than no one thought to open a distillery here. It's that type of lazy outsourcing however, that has helped bring this country to the edge of the fiscal cliff which we now teeter so precariously on. Luckily Colin and Dave, the two surprisingly sober individuals behind Kings County Distillery are bringing moonshine and bourbon back to the city.
The distillery, housed in a renovated old warehouse in Bushwick, is making the first legal liquor in New York in about nine decades. It's a small operation but is expanding quickly. In the last month their output has doubled from four batches a day to eight, and while the bourbon is still marinating, you can get the white lightening at a few different places in Brooklyn and Manhattan already.
Turns out this whole operation is just a few blocks from my apartment, so last Saturday I walked to the HQ for a quick look-see at the inner workings of the joint.
This is a bunch of corn. This stuff gets thrown into a pot with some water and heated to the precise moment when it looks like piss with chunks of vomit inside.
Personally, I've never paid too much attention to barrels. They're wooden, look old-timey, and if you ever find yourself in a cartoon without clothes you can wear one. I thought everyone shared my barrel ennui until Colin told me just how big a part the oval-y wooden things play in the bourban-making world. The alcohol gets its charred-oak color from the barrel, the slightly sugary flavor comes from the sap, and the barrel's carbon helps to filter the whiskey. These are imported from Minnesota.
Next we went to the meth lab-looking room.
Here's Colin checking the temperature on a vat of corn.
What did I tell you? Piss and vomit, right? When this stuff cools you toss the barley in there.
This is what barley looks like. The barley has enzymes in it that convert the starch and corn to sugar. The yeast consumes that crap, and it turns into alcohol.
Here we see the fermentation process at work.
Once you have everything all nice and fermented, it gets strained and thrown inside these stills which sit on top of hot plates. Over the course of about five hours the steam from the firewater gets drained into those jugs on the floor, then those jugs are combined and poured into another still, which gives it that clean, double-distilled flavor.
If you're easily impressed like me, you're probably thinking the stills look pretty fancy. But when I told Colin they seemed high-tech he humbly told me it was basically the same operation someone would have on their porch, times five.
This is not Chablis, it's poison. And it's some of the throwaway stuff that comes out of the still during the first stages of the process. They keep it around to use as a cleaning solvent.
This anal probe-looking guy measures alcohol content. In order to be considered bourbon, the AC can't be more than 60%. David and Collin say that "bourbon" is one of the most restrictive terms to use in whiskey cookin'. There's tons of laws which address everything from the overall process to aging to the proof. It's a byzantine ordeal that bourbon makers have to follow in order to call the stuff they produce bourbon.
Here's the hooch.
Thar she blows. The first distillery permit issued in New York City since before prohibition.
After sampling a bit of the merchandise I was sold. As far as moonshine goes it was good. Meaning it tasted slightly better than rubbing alcohol, which is more than I can say for other moonshines I've had.
The bourbon is aging in its fancy barrels right now, and won't be ready until sometime this winter, but you can buy the 'shine at a few places in Brooklyn as well as Manhattan. Click that different colored text down there for more info.