I recently headed to New York City for my first trip. For my wife and I when we decide to go somewhere the first things we think are, where can we eat, and what can we drink? Of course I was eager to find out what kind of local flavours New York craft distilleries had to offer. The first thing I wanted to find out was if NY State was also seeing regulatory changes, as BC and many other states and provinces have.
The regulatory changes in New York State started in 2002, when they significantly dropped the licensing fee from $50,000 to $1,400 for start up distilleries. In 2007 the state introduced a farm distillery license, making it even easier for new distilleries to start up, as long as they used at least 50% NY state agricultural goods. The result has been positive - more distilleries are opening up, and they have strong relationships with local farms (and are generating new tax revenues for the government, of course!).
My wife and I picked one local Brooklyn distillery to visit - Kings County Distillery, New York's oldest distillery -- around since 2009! -- and the first operating in NY State since prohibition. The distillery didn't open until later in the day so we decided to pick a random subway stop in Brooklyn and wander around. It's kind of like Kitsilano, only bigger and better and more. We had decided to make our way to the distillery when we found Brooklyn Oenology, purely by chance. We figured we'd find some air conditioning and wine to cool off with, but they also had a first class assortment of stuff from local distilleries. We availed ourselves of the cool (literally and figuratively) space and fine selection.
We tried Delaware Phoenix Distillery's Bourbon, produced from an 19th century recipe -- a classic, tasty bourbon. We also sampled Atsby's Armadillo Cake Vermouth, was a real treat for us. It was our first artisan vermouth and I think would offer some amazing cocktail possibilities. I'm not sure a craft vermouth would be possibile in BC -- vermouth is a fortified wine (wine added to a distilled beverage), and our new craft laws require the product to be distilled and fermented on site, which would mean you'd need to find a distillery which could ferment the wine or a winery which could also distill the liquor. We also tried Comb 9 Gin, which is distilled from fermented honey, of all things. It wasn't very juniper heavy, and as our friend The Gin is In points out, it has some good floral characteristics. There's nothing like stumbling upon a random gem like this place!
After a long, hot, and misguided walk through Brooklyn (stupid Apple maps) we finally arrived at Kings County Distillery, just as a tour was starting. They have only recently moved to this new space - a refitted bank in the Brooklyn Navy Yard - although they are already getting close to using up their storage space. They have some pot stills brought in from Scotland, but they aren't up an running yet. In the mean time they are running three shifts using several small 'home distiller' class stills. Once their pot stills are up and running their output should be impressive, both in quantity and quality.
Kings County produces a moonshine (un-aged corn whiskey) as well as a barrel aged bourbon whiskey and a chocolate flavoured whiskey (surprisingly good -- not too sweet). For aging they use five gallon new american oak barrels. The smaller barrels have two key advantages for them - first, with a smaller barrel you get a larger surface contact area for the liquid, which speed up the aging process (about 14 months), and second, it makes it easier to haul them up the stairs to their second floor storage room! We found the bourbon to have a very sweet aroma, which no doubt comes from the corn base, but wasn't too sweet to taste. It was good enough that I was wishing I hadn't travelled carry-on, stopping me from brining anything back.
One of the things we really liked about this distillery is that it not only uses NY State corn, but it then sends it's spent mash to back into the country side to a local farm with pigs. During their move, when they stopped production, apparently the pigs went on a little bit of a hunger strike, upset that they weren't getting their afternoon buzz. I'd do the same.