The Kings County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining

The Kings County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining

How to Make and Drink Whiskey

David Haskell, Colin Spoelman

You may have found you can get away with knowing nothing about wine, that you can call mulligan on that one and still get by. But liquor feels different, and so you pick one drink to order everywhere you go, like you’re James Bond or a cowboy. And you look down the bar and your ten-year-old self is sitting there shaking his head at how much of a phony you’ve become, and you want to say to him, You don’t understand; it gets complicated. You want to explain that adulthood is something of an insult that prompts the whiskey in the first place. Who knew that you had to live with yourself in your own head for such a long time? Alcohol seems to soften the intensity of that fact. Great writers have articulated this same truth, and have dealt with the condition by turning to drink. So you look at your younger self and shrug. He’ll understand soon enough. And who let him in the bar anyway?

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Jameson would have you believe that the third distillation enhances the quality of their whiskey, but it simply means that Jameson is more neutral: fewer impurities, less flavor.

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every vodka order is a missed opportunity.

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Vodka is a feat of engineering. By definition via American law, it has no “distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color,” and so vodkas differentiate themselves by the vague characteristic of smoothness.

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Most gin and absinthe originate as vodka before being infused and redistilled with flavoring agents.

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the astronomic sales of super-premium vodkas are one of the great advertising triumphs of modern history.

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—whiskey is steeped in America. It is the spirit that George Washington distilled at home and offered to his troops during the Revolutionary War, and the spirit Thomas Jefferson foresaw when granting land in western Virginia to corn growers. It is the spirit that defined the soul of the South after its defeat in the Civil War, and the spirit that was most easily manufactured (sometimes through grossly artificial means) during Prohibition, fueling the urban speakeasies of the Jazz Age,

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. A 1766 map illustrates very little development in Brooklyn, other than a large distillery complex in Brooklyn Heights standing among the scattered houses in the woods and marshes.

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Out on the frontier, it was considerably more difficult to deliver acres’ worth of grain to market than it was to distill the grain at home and travel with a jug of spirit. This is how whiskey first grew in popularity—it became a convenient mechanism for farms large and small to monetize their harvest.

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Jefferson knew the economic potential of whiskey. When he was governor of Virginia, he offered sixty-acre plots in the western part of his state to anyone who would grow corn. Sixty acres of corn was far more than any family could eat, but enough to support commercial distilling. In 1792, this part of Virginia became the fifteenth state: Kentucky.

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This was a time when the government received up to 65 percent of its revenue from excise tax

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George Garvin Brown, who would later become the Brown in Brown-Forman (the company that now owns Jack Daniel’s, as well as many other spirits brands), as the first distiller to begin to bottle his whiskey specifically under a brand name (Old Forester)

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A handful of Kentucky distilleries (including the distillery that is today called Buffalo Trace) had remained in business through the 1920s making medicinal whiskey, which allowed them something of a first-mover advantage.

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Several states passed along the dry option to the county level, and today, hundreds of counties, primarily in the Southeast (and many in Kentucky), remain dry.

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The wild tenements and illicit stills of Little Street in Irishtown have been replaced by a massive Con Edison substation, and most of Vinegar Hill is a ward of empty streets, surrounded only by the buzz of transformers and the whisper of the river. Dickson’s Alley is buried under a tower of the Farragut Houses, a housing project just steps from the current location of Kings County Distillery. The Navy Yard has been decommissioned, and the officers’ quarters, which once abutted Irishtown, are overgrown with trees and slated to become a supermarket. Al Capone—the greatest bootlegger of all time—was born a few steps from the Navy Yard, but today his birthplace is the site of an on-ramp to the BQE, and the brothels of Sands Street, where he contracted the syphilis that killed him, are gardens surrounded by public housing. All of this recent history has quickly covered over the past, the stench of alcohol having left only bitter memories in the public consciousness.

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Commandant’s House This unusual mansion, built in 1805 just three years after the commissioning of the Navy Yard, is in private hands and remains one of the most mysterious and intriguing private residences in the city. It is rumored to have been designed by Charles Bulfinch, the architect of the U.S. Capitol’s wings, rotunda, and portico.

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. 92 Navy Street Birthplace of Al Capone.

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about half of the rye brands on liquor shelves today are made in a single, industrial facility,

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I recommend Chuck Cowdery’s website as the paramount guide to bourbon on the Internet.

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Bernheim is the only straight wheat whiskey on the market today, and makes an interesting contribution to any whiskey collection. It has a softer, familiar wheat flavor that doesn’t need a lot of wood to get a nice balance.

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Sazerac cocktail, often described as the first mixed drink.

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One noteworthy line is W. L. Weller, a well-aged wheated bourbon that is offered in a variety of bottlings, and whose twelve-year is excellent and reasonably priced.

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George Dickel, the main alternative Tennessee whiskey to Jack Daniel’s. Its Number 12 is a personal favorite.

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one of the most delicious beers I’ve ever tasted, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale,

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