Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Interning at Kings County Distillery

This summer I learned how to make moonshine... legally, of course. I interned at Kings County Distillery, the oldest whiskey distillery in New York City since prohibition. After a summer filled with farmers, restaurants, bars, markets, Brooklyn, and bourbon, I would venture to say that it was the best internship ever.

Although Kings County has the title of oldest distillery, it is actually less than two years old. New York recently passed a law allowing for “farm distilleries,” or small- scale distilleries that use local grain in their alcohol production. The whiskey at Kings County is made with corn from the Finger Lakes region of New York. One of my projects this summer was actually finding a way to source local rye for future production. Through the Grow NYC stand at the Union Square farmers market, I was able to get in contact with multiple local farms, and now the distillery gets rye from the same farm that supplies the bakery at Mario Batali’s Eataly.

Because the owners of the distillery have day jobs, I was left with a key to the distillery and a few general goals. I quickly realized that the value of my time at Kings County was dependent on how much effort I wanted to expend. I like to make the most of opportunities, so I tried to accomplish as much as possible in the six weeks I was there. I learned that seemingly minor tasks, like making business cards and doing inventory, are actually incredibly important. Organization makes production run much more smoothly, especially in a 325 square-foot space.

Kings County Distillery is really just comprised of two small rooms in a second floor loft. The building is on an unmarked side street in an industrial area of Williamsburg. The distilling room is like a mad scientist’s lab: There are large buckets of corn mash fermenting, five small stills dripping away, and a chalkboard wall with names, dates, and spirit numbers. The tasting room, with its wooden bar and stacks of barrels, is almost reminiscent of an old-fashioned saloon. The distillery’s space is incredibly apropos- it certainly has lots of character.

My favorite part of working at Kings County was the people. I absolutely loved everyone there, from Colin and David, the owners, to the distilling team of Matthew, Tristan, Chris, and Nate. Each person added to the story of the distillery, and the story is the best part of the job (aside from the whiskey). I also met a variety of different people during my time selling the whiskey. I spoke to bartenders, general managers, and restaurant owners around the city.

My goal was to explain to them the role of Kings County in a new movement: The idea of eating and drinking local and sustainable products has hit food, beer, and even wine. Most people, however, are not aware that it is also beginning in the spirits industry. New York is the perfect place to market local, sustainable spirits because of its educated and interested dining and drinking community. Kings County is looking to spearhead that movement with the help of establishments and consumers.

The experience I gained at Kings County Distillery is invaluable. I did so much, from sending product to Japan to making experimental bitters, from bottling and delivering whiskey to marketing the distillery, and so much more. Although summer is over, I will continue to help Kings County as it grows. Next time you’re in Brooklyn, you should definitely check out the distillery- I’ll bet you’ll find the best moonshine you’ve ever had.

-- Becca Goldstein

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