Founded by David Haskell and Colin Spoelman in 2009, Kings County Distillery is the first of its kind in New York City since prohibition. From day one, David and Colin had a clear goal. Make good, simple whiskey for a more cosmopolitan audience.
D. Callahan recently caught up with the co-founders while moving into their new (built in 1899) building in Brooklyn’s historic Navy Yard.
How’s the move going? Would you say you’re settled in completely?
DAVID: There’s still stuff to come, like a lot of equipment, but it feels like, just in the last couple weeks, like we’re here. We’re grounded, and we’re using the space.
Outside of reading the recipe, tell me what makes a good whiskey.
COLIN: David thinks it’s more important to have organic grain than I do. I was like, whatever tastes best, and it turns out that organic grain does tastes best.
Why do humans laugh when tickled?
DAVID: I think a combination of terror, ecstasy, and embarrassment over the ecstasy.
Talk a little bit about the first time you tasted moonshine.
COLIN: I don’t really remember the first time I tasted moonshine. It was probably when I was 16, and I was so excited to be drinking alcohol at all, so the type of alcohol wasn’t particularly memorable.
Where’s the safest place to stand in a thunderstorm?
COLIN: On a bus?
DAVID: In the road… assuming you can’t be inside.
We didn’t say you couldn’t be inside.
DAVID: Oh. Well… inside.
Currently, what’s the biggest problem with running a business that happens to be a distillery?
COLIN: I don’t know if there is any single problem. Everything breaks, and it costs money to replace.
DAVID: Money. You hope money’s coming in, but it’s always going out. So you have to just be smart about your original projections, and steadfast in your course of action.
Stones or Zeppelin?
COLIN: Zeppelin. Stones were like Aerosmith, but 20 years earlier, where Zeppelin’s richly textured, orchestral music.
DAVID: Stones by default. I kind of hate Zeppelin. Led Zeppelin gets at the heart of everything that was awkward about my childhood.
Anything you might do differently if you started this today?
Does the size of one’s head effect his I.Q.?
COLIN: We had a friend named Jittles who had a big head, and a really high IQ. Or at least he knew the answer to every trivia question. So I can say, based purely on empirical research, that the answer is yes.
Bourbon drinkers have a strangely unique loyalty to their brands. Any insite of comment on this?
COLIN: I think it’s because people are deeply antagonized by the process of picking a drink. There’s enormous amount of anxiety over what is essentially something people know very little about. I think it’s that anxiety, along with 70 years of American marketing that have permeated drinking culture without much opportunity for change. There’ve been no indie spirits until, what, 8 years ago? 5 years ago? So it’s like how, in the 80s, when there wasn’t a lot of indie music, everybody liked pop. Michael Jackson was the guy. So I think now, as we move into the grunge era of spirits, there’s sort of a counter-revolution brewing.
DAVID: My take on that is similar. A lot of it has to do with social anxiety, and just brand identification as a kind of marketing yourself. But then some people get excited about the story behind how a company is made, and believe in a company based on their brand identification, and I think when you start seeing people with a particular allegiance to a small distillery, it often comes out of the fact that they’ve visited it, and seen how it’s made, and met the people there, and kind of buy in to what they’re doing. So it becomes more of a relationship with the brand.
Is that what makes you want to bring more people here to see the process, and create the boozium?
DAVID: Yeah, totally. And what made us want to start a distillery for our friends first. Like, the whole thing has grown from a particular geographic place. And out of the idea of New Yorkers drink so much, wouldn’t they want to drink what other New Yorkers are making. And then, hopefully, we’ll start serving further and further away from here. But we want to feel grounded in a place.
Describe the perfect meal to go with bourbon on the rocks.
COLIN: I refuse to answer that question. You should drink whatever you like!
Will my eyes pop out of my skull if I don’t close them when I sneeze?
DAVID: Try it.
Follow up question: what if I’ve just taken a shot of your moonshine?
DAVID: Whatever happens, you’ll enjoy it.