Joe & Jill Gallagher are a husband-and-wife team of writers, publishing professionals, and bourbon enthusiasts who live in Brooklyn, NY with their puggle, Chief. Jill writes about books and fashion at her blog, Looks and Books.
The two-story brick building in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard that houses Kings County Distillery is still topped with a sign designating its original occupant, the base’s Paymaster. The structure’s historic feel is fitting, as it now houses the oldest distillery in New York. That claim is somewhat spurious, since prohibition-era laws preventing the establishment of distilleries in the city (and the various riots they used to incite) were only overturned in 2009. But Colin Spoelman and David Haskell, the owners of Kings County, wasted no time in moving Spoelman’s moonshine operation from his apartment into more legal environs as soon as they had the chance, and, having been in continuous operation since 2010, the title of oldest operating distillery is now officially theirs.
Our tour guide was Spoelman himself, and the tour began earlier than he intended, when he met us at the large locked gate that guards the government facility in which the distillery sits. After explaining that the gate was locked because it was Sunday, and the distillery doesn’t normally offer tours on Sundays, he did some quick thinking and passed his own ID card through the fence so that each of us could swipe through the turnstile. It all felt very clandestine and adventurous, like we were doing something illicit.
With blond disheveled curls, drowsy eyes, and a wrinkled, untucked shirt, Spoelman plays the part of Brooklyn-by-way-of-Kentucky whiskey distiller very well. He is charming, with a wide smile and the tinge of a drawl. He gave a brief history lesson on whiskey in New York (including the Moonshine Wars. Look it up. It’s fascinating.) before leading the group around the back of the distillery, to the room where the magic happens.
The distillery is spare and rustic, just the kind of aesthetic one would imagine a Brooklyn whiskey distillery to have, with exposed brick and unfinished wood. Inside, the smell is what you notice first—tangy and sour, it hits you at the back of your throat. Spoelman pointed out the various stills and explained their functions as we sidestepped barrels full of steaming “mash.” He went through each step of the process for us as we poked around. A pair of workers sat at a table to the side, listening to the radio and putting labels on the bottles.
Upstairs, the barrel room was flooded with sunlight from the tall windows. Blown up photographs from Hurricane Sandy hung from the ceiling, floating over the rows of barrels. A black and white cat sauntered up and down the rows, playing sentinel, as another of its feral kind darted out of the open door to the outdoor staircase. Each barrel had a date, alcohol percentage, and number scrawled in black marker, along with the name of the person who was responsible for loading the barrel. One barrel, dated 10.27.12, read “Don’t fear the hurricane!” Sandy hit two days later.
The tour concluded, Spoelman led us to the “tasting room,” a small bar surrounded by simple wooden shelves full of the distinctive Kings County bottles. Each bottle is small and clear, almost medicinal in appearance. The space is spartan, clean, nothing ornamental beyond a few black and white vintage photographs.
The distillery makes three varieties of whiskey—moonshine, chocolate, and a traditional bourbon. We got to try each one. The moonshine, which Spoelman learned how to make growing up in Kentucky, is sharp, stinging, like the blade of a knife. The more traditional variety is amber in color and straightforward in flavor—it’s uncomplicated, but solid. The chocolate variety is a surprise. Though it seems like a novelty item, cotton-candy flavored vodka this is not. It’s made by infusing the moonshine with cacao husks from the nearby Mast Brothers Chocolate factory, resulting in a cocoa flavor that’s malty and rich, not sweet or syrupy. We asked the woman behind the bar if she had any serving suggestions for the chocolate whiskey (we have a bottle at home that we’ve been a little stumped about), and she said her favorite way to drink it is in a milkshake—blended with almond milk and ice. We’re also looking forward to trying it in our hot chocolate (or coffee?) throughout the winter.
Whiskey Drinker’s Christmas List 2013
Holiday season is back! We’ve all got a special whiskey drinker in our lives to shop for, so we’re here to help you find that perfect gift for him or her (or yourself).
W&P Cocktail Kit from Art in the Age: This beautiful kit includes the Mason Cocktail Shaker (which we featured here), a jigger, wooden muddler, two cloth napkins, four glass tumblers, and the Art in the Age custom bar bag. It’s a beautiful set and bag that will set you back $349. Also available is the W&P Cocktail Kit directly from W&P. At $279, this set includes 2 coupe glasses instead of 4 tumblers.
(middle row, left to right)
Whiskey Shaving Puck and Mug: Portland General Store offers this enamelware mug and shaving puck for $42. We were skeptical at first, but we can confirm that it really does smell like whiskey in a very pleasant way. They also carry a whiskey aftershave.
Old Fashioned Print: This beautiful print from Bourbon Built would be a wonderful addition to any home bar. Pick one up for only $10.
(bottom row, left to right)
Sphere Ice Molds: Few things are as striking as a large ice ball in your whiskey on the rocks or cocktail. It also melts much slower than regular ice. This set of two molds from World Market is only $10.99.
Retro Ice Crusher: Sometimes you want a mint julep or another drink that calls for crushed ice. We’ve always loved these vintage ice crushers. They do the job and look pretty while doing it. It’s also incredibly easy to find a wide variety of them, so you can always be sure to find one that perfectly matches your style. A quick Etsy search yields hundreds of options. Your local antique or vintage store is very likely to have a few as well.
Yarai Mixing Glass: Mixing glasses are another beautiful and functional addition to any bar. This glass from Boston Shaker is a steal at $56. A good mixing glass is an essential for anyone making cocktails.
Hopefully this guide helps you find the perfect gift for your favorite whiskey drinker. Of course, you can always buy a special bottle of bourbon too. If you’re still looking for help, all the items from our 2011 and 2012 gift guides should still be available.
Happy weekending (and happy Thanksgiving)!
Citrus and bourbon are very good friends. Even better is when the citrus is not something pedestrian like lemon or lime. Grapefruit is the star of the show in this cocktail that we decided to make after seeing it on the lovely site Back Down South, both because it looks delicious and because we can see Mount Saint Helens on a daily basis, so we were intrigued by a drink with a similar name.
Mount Saint Helen
2 oz. Bourbon
½ oz. Grapefruit juice
½ oz. Simple Syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
3 Mint leaves
Gently muddle simple syrup, bitters, and two mint leaves in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add the grapefruit juice, bourbon, and ice and shake briefly to combine. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with the third mint leaf.
You’ll notice this drink is similar to the brown derby that we featured before, but this version is more complex. The bitters add a nice contrast to the sweetness. We used a stronger bourbon to offset the other bold flavors in the recipe, and it worked really well.
The folks at Chopin Vodka make three varieties of vodka—potato, wheat, and rye. We love that Chopin vodka contains no additives and its ingredients are sourced locally in Poland, where it is produced.
We were intrigued by the idea of tasting a neutral spirit that uses two ingredients (wheat and rye) that are commonly found in bourbon to see how each vodka would compare with bourbons featuring different mash bills. We know that vodka and bourbon sounds like an unusual pairing, but with careful matching, it actually works. We found an inspiration recipe and adapted it for our use.
1½ oz. Bourbon
1½ oz. Chopin wheat or rye vodka
¼ oz. Cointreau
1 bar spoon Luxardo cherry juice
Mix all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake vigorously to combine. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry.
For this cocktail we chose to pair Woodinville bourbon with Chopin wheat vodka. The drink is exceptionally smooth. One of the vodka’s main contributions to the drink is its smooth, velvety texture. This is a strong drink, so it’s a sipper for sure, but we were really impressed by how well the two spirits complemented each other.
We’re looking forward to playing with Chopin rye vodka, too. We think it would go nicely with Four Roses Yellow Label.
Even though this nightcap was on Chopin’s tab, we will always review products honestly. Contrary to popular belief, free drinks don’t automatically taste better.
We recently spent an evening sampling cocktails and nibbles at Double Dragon in Portland. We were served two versions of their whiskey toddy, one hot and one cold. The bartender, Dan, was kind enough to share the recipe with us.
Double Dragon Toddy
2 oz. Rye
1 oz. Honey five spice syrup
1 oz. Lemon juice
Whiskey barrel-aged bitters
The cold version is the same but with the addition of an absinthe rinse. While we preferred the hot version on a chilly evening, the cold cocktail was quite tasty and we always appreciate how an absinthe rinse can amplify whiskey.
We were also delighted to witness some cocktail demonstrations. Dan walked us through how to make two drinks. We’re going to share with you our favorite and the drink that had all our companions reaching for second sips, too.
No Name No. 5
2 oz. Dickel rye
1 oz. Sweet vermouth
1 oz. Italian amaro
You might notice the similarity to the Little Italy cocktail, but the chocolate bitters that Dan at Double Dragon used take this to the next level. It is off-menu, but if you ask for it (and we recommend you do), he will make you one.
1235 SE Division Street
Portland, OR 97202
Even though this visit was on Double Dragon’s tab, we will always review products and experiences honestly. Contrary to popular belief, free drinks don’t automatically taste better.
We are smitten with ice cream of any variety, but the other day when I decided to make a lemon ice cream to use up some extra lemons we had lying around, the idea hit me to add some bourbon and make a whiskey sour-inspired ice cream. It was a magical moment.
Whiskey Sour Ice Cream
2 cups Heavy cream
1 cup Milk
1 cup Sugar
½ cup Lemon juice
3 Tbsp. Bourbon
½ tsp. Vanilla extract
Whisk milk and sugar together until the sugar has dissolved. Gently whisk in the other ingredients and pour into your ice cream maker. Freeze for about half an hour, then transfer to a container and place in the freezer for four hours or overnight to harden further. Garnish with a maraschino cherry if desired.
This ice cream is so delicious and it actually does taste like a whiskey sour. It is light and refreshing, but with a tiny bite from the bourbon. We chose to use a sweeter bourbon to help balance out the tartness of the lemon. If you really wanted to boost the cocktail factor of this recipe, you could add in some bitters, but we opted for a more refreshing citrusy ice cream.
Last year, we reviewed the Woodinville Whiskey Co. Bourbon. The general opinion back then was that the wood from the barrels overpowered all the other flavors. We wrote that the whiskey didn’t taste bad, it was just a one-note experience. Well, we recently received an email from Woodinville Whiskey Co. saying they read our review, they’ve been working on their process, and would we be interested in tasting the new product.
We agreed for a couple of reasons. It’s not very often anyone gets an opportunity to taste the progression of a product. Also, it shows that Woodinville Whiskey Co. is seeking out feedback and attempting to improve their product. Trying to get better is always respectable.
We noticed a difference as soon as we unwrapped the bottle. The color of the whiskey was noticeably darker than before. The biggest takeaway from this tasting is that this bourbon is much more balanced than the bourbon we tasted a year ago. While we could still smell and taste the vanilla and oak from the barrels, this time we noted some floral, cherry, and raisin notes both in the smell and taste. It’s also much smoother than before, though we wish the finish would linger for a bit longer than it does. At one point, we discussed how it was very interesting to taste a product where we could taste that it was the same product we had before, only a better version of it.
*Even though this nightcap was on Woodinville Whiskey’s tab, we will always review products honestly. Contrary to popular belief, free drinks don’t automatically taste better.
Until recently, we’d never tasted Drambuie. Since we’re always down to try new flavors, we jumped at the opportunity to add it to our bar. Drambuie is a blend of scotch, honey, spices, and herbs. It’s extremely sweet, almost cloying, but it mixes well with just about any whisk(e)y without overpowering.
We mixed equal parts Maker’s Mark and Drambuie over ice. Anthony Caporale of Drambuie is calling the Maker’s mixture “Little Bit Rusty” because it’s basically a variation of the classic Rusty Nail (which mixes Drambuie with scotch). Honestly, we were a bit skeptical of Drambuie before we tasted it. We’re generally not very big on infusions or herbal blends with whiskey, but this liqueur does make a good accompaniment to any type of whiskey when you’re in the mood for something sweet.
Just in case you needed step-by-step instructions, here’s how to make a Little Bit Rusty:
1 part Drambuie
1 part bourbon
Stir in a mixing glass with ice, then pour into an old fashioned glass over ice. Garnish with a maraschino cherry if desired.
*Even though this nightcap was on Drambuie’s tab, we will always review products honestly. Contrary to popular belief, free drinks don’t automatically taste better.
Phew, long week. Happy Friday!