Bottles clank and the smell of hot, mashed corn permeates the air. A lazy fan whirs, complimenting the constant hum of the stills that are directly behind me. In front of me stands Colin Spoelman, moonshiner.
I may feel as though I’m in the back woods of Kentucky, but I’m actually standing in the middle of a Bushwick, Brooklyn, warehouse—the 300 square-foot stifling hot space is home to Kings County Distillery, Brooklyn’s first post-prohibition distillery.
The distillery is young—about a year old—but has already been wildly successful, selling their small-batch corn whiskey and, more recently, bourbon, to New York City bars, restaurants, and liquor stores.
In fact, when we first learned of Kings County back in December, we had to wait for more than two weeks before Astor Wines & Spirits had the moonshine back in stock.
“Nobody is a moonshiner if they’re just doing it as a hobby,” says Spoelman, a thin, blond 30-something, who is one of the distillery’s co-owners. “I think a moonshiner is always scheming some way to do business.”
Spoelman, a Kentucky native, grew up fascinated by the stuff and knew that it would have a viable market in the big city. In fact, prior to purchasing his own still, Spoelman even contemplated a moonshine importation business.
“That is so illegal,” he says, laughing. “Taking something that was already illegal and then transporting it across state lines seemed like a really bad idea.”
Spoelman, who has worked professionally as both an architect and a filmmaker, later purchased his own still off the Internet and, with the help of a book, set out distilling. He first distilled wine, and after making some admittedly “gross stuff,” he finally created what he thought to be pretty good moonshine.
David Haskell, a friend of Spoelman’s and a senior editor at New York Magazine, happened to agree and Kings County Distillery was born shortly thereafter.
At the time the duo began, laws had just changed that allowed them to purchase a farmer’s distillery license and set up shop in Brooklyn. Their first (and current) two-room set-up is nestled in an industrial area of Bushwick, on the fringe of Williamsburg.
Their light-filled space is small, but it does allow Spoelman, Haskell and their small staff just enough room to store their corn—they go through about 3,000 pounds per month, run their stills, age their bourbon and bottle their moonshine.
The bourbon is aged for nine months and is currently only available directly from the distillery, which is open to the public for tours and tastings on select dates. It’s not for sale, but you can also taste a distiller’s proof—moonshine aged for five weeks, rather than 36 weeks.
It’s apparent from the moment you step into Kings County, that every bottle churned out is meticulously- and expertly-crafted. The tables are strewn with tools you may not have seen since your 10th grade science class—funnels, beakers, test tubes, and thermometers are among them, and all are used to make sure that each batch of whiskey or bourbon is exactly the same.
The impressive dedication to detail continues right down to the thick, industrial-style glass bottles and typewriter labels, affixed by hand to each bottle.
“It’s a lemonade stand, in a certain sense,” says Spoelman. “You buy lemons and you buy sugar and you figure out where to put the stand so that more people come visit it.”
Spoelman’s so-called “lemonade stand” is well worth the visit.