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We’re Not in Kentucky Anymore: Brooklyn Gets Boozy

Making booze has always been a southern thing—Bourbon was born and raised in Kentucky, after all, while Tennessee is still considered to be ground zero for American whisky—and North Brooklynites David Haskell and Colin Spoelman plan to honor the age-old tradition by starting up their very own distillery in the south. South Williamsburg, that is.

Haskell and Spoelman are the brains and brawn behind the Kings County Distillery, North Brookyn’s first foray into brewing and bottling the borough’s own bourbon, whisky and moonshine, out of a studio on Meadow Street. The operation is a small one—each batch only yields about 30 gallons of product—and that’s precisely the idea. Kings County Distillery is to be an artisanal endeavor, for consumption right here in Brooklyn.

“Artisanal brewing is more about doing it for ourselves, as opposed to microbrewing. We are on the scale of thos small distillers in Appalachia,” said Spoelman. “There’s a certain quality control when the operation stays small. We’re making this for our neighbors; we want our story to be about the taste and the community, and there’s a level to integrity in that.”

Contrary to the popular idea of bootleggers—scrappy criminals working outside the confines of the law—Spoelman and Haskell, both 30 years old, are doing quite well for themselves. Spoelman is an architect and Haskell is a writer and editor. Their desire to start their own distillery grew out of a genuine love and interest for liquor, and a desire to put a fresh new spin on dusty old traditions: Spoelman grew up in Kentucky, and Haskell recently discovered that his great grandfather was a bootlegger in upstate New York.

“We aren’t trapped in the nostalgic idea of what alcohol should be like—that it has to be rural and southern,” Spoelman said. “We’re making it right here, in a city of 8.5 million people. We aren’t limiting ourselves, or adhering to the ethic that bourbon is only good if it has been aged for a long time, and is from Kentucky. Well, that’s just not true.”

The pair has been working on perfecting their stock for a little over a year now, and will begin selling their products as soon as they get the official green light from the New York State Liquor Authority. Kings County Distillery will offer three different types of booze—a bourbon, a whisky and a variety of moonshine, which Spoelman describes as reminiscent of sake in its lightness, sweetness and drinkability.

Not only will Kings County Distillery liquors be stocked exclusively in Brooklyn, but Spoelman and Haskell place a heavy emphasis on keeping all aspects of the operation as small-scale and local as possible—right down to their grain supply. And their decision to base Kings County Distillery out of Williamsburg was no accident either.

“There’s the idea of starting something that gets back to fundamental values,” said Haskell, in reference to the increasing revival of all that is home-made and handcrafted, including home-refined liquors and beers, all of Brooklyn. In fact, Kings County Distillery is one of four Brooklyn-based distilleries that will be launching lines of liquor this year. “There has been a rich tradition of people making their own alcohol since the prohibition, so we expected a revival much like that of micro-brewing fifteen years ago. It’s like cooking too—things you make at home always taste better.”

“And there’s no better neighborhood in America to be doing this than Williamsburg,” Haskell continued. “Williamsburg doesn’t hold you hostage to traditional ways of doing things.”

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