Bourbon Sipping in Brooklyn

New York State may have been a little late arriving to the craft whiskey party, but it certainly showed up in style. Once a whiskey wasteland, New York is now the home for a slew of homegrown distilleries. Consequently, I had more than a few promising options to check out when I decided to visit Brooklyn this fall. After reading a few online reviews, I quickly set my sights on two producers generating significant buzz among local whiskey fans – King’s County Distillery and Van Brunt Stillhouse.

Below are some brief notes on the whiskeys I sampled.

King’s County Distillery:

Moonshine: Sweet with cornflakes and masa.  A solid, smooth rendition of a white whiskey.

Brooklyn Whiskey - Bourbon Sippers

Bourbon: Butterscotch candy and light grain notes. The finish was sweet but well balanced with heat.

Peated Bourbon: Sweet first, then smoke. This would make a very interesting “smoked” Old Fashioned.

Oat Whiskey: Milk chocolate, hay, and subtle oak. Better than most oat whiskeys I have tried.

Brooklyn Whiskey - Bourbon Sippers

Bottled-In-Bond Bourbon: Smoky and tannic with heavy char. A great choice for fans of oaky whiskey.

Barrel Proof Bourbon: All of the flavors of the standard release but with more depth and complexity. Easily my favorite of the group.  

Overall impression: A lot of whiskey fans avoid small barrel aging, and I can’t say that I blame them – small barrel products

can be pretty harsh and unrefined. Having said that, King’s County Distillery does small barrel aging the best way possible. They watch the barrels closely, blend thoughtfully, and don’t try to overextend themselves. The results are whiskeys that are enjoyable and clearly well-crafted. Unquestionably worth a visit.  King’s County Distillery is a great stop if you’re in Brooklyn.

Van Brunt Stillhouse:

Whiskey: Grain forward, slightly sweet. Young but easy to drink.

Bourbon: Cereal grains, chocolate, tropical fruit. Worked very well in the house-made cocktails.

Rye: Sweet with cinnamon and coffee notes. Less grainy than the whiskey or bourbon.Brooklyn Whiskey - Bourbon Sippers

Smoked Corn: Corn, fire, and corn on fire. This is a straight up campfire in a glass.

Empire Rye: Similar to standard rye but more cinnamon. Easily my favorite whiskey in their lineup.

Overall Impression: These whiskeys were on the young and grainy side, but most people will find something to like here. The Empire rye showed particular promise and went well in several of their featured cocktails. I also think that the Smoked Corn whiskey will play well with a certain audience – e.g. anyone that enjoys smoky pours like Balcone’s Brimstone. If I’m being honest, the Van Brunt whiskeys were a little too young and rough around the edges for my taste, but they have a strong local following and a full tasting room on most nights. There might be something happening here.   

A Special Tasting:

Tokki Soju: I was fortunate to get a taste of this unique spirit from Brandon Hill, owner and creator of Tokki Soju (Tokki is not a Van Brunt product, but is distilled in their facility). For those unfamiliar with this spirit, Soju is a Korean spirit traditionally made from rice. Tokki, The first American traditional rice Soju, is distilled from organic sticky rice and a hand-cultivated yeast strain.

Brandon poured me samples of the 23% ABV standard release, as well as the Tokki Soju Black, an amped up 40% ABV version. Simply put, this is a distinctive, artfully produced spirit that was the highlight of my trip. The flavor profile falls somewhere between vodka and whiskey, making it a very versatile choice for a mixer. However, I would happily sip this neat – particularly the 40% ABV release. If you find a bottle don’t hesitate to expand your horizons and take a chance.

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