When I asked Nicole what whiskey she was drinking, she said, “My own.”
I ordered the same – it’s not often I get to have a glass of whiskey with the person who made it.
Nicole Austin, 27, has the enviable title of “whiskey maker” at Kings County Distillery, in East Williamsburg, which she runs with Colin Spoelman and David Haskell.
By day, she works in environmental engineering. But on nights and weekends, she can be found sampling the barrels at Kings County Distillery and bottling the bourbon or corn whiskey when ready.
_ Some people like Friday or Saturday. I like Wednesday. Well, not every Wednesday – the Wednesday when I hear glasses clinking on the other side of the cubicle and smell popcorn wafting down the hallway at the end of the workday. This is usually preceded by the note we all wait for – Whiskey Wednesday. Usual spot.
Sometimes a coworker has returned from a trip – most commonly Ireland – with a bottle of whiskey, or someone has a favorite bottle they want to share. Other times we pool our money and send someone to the liquor store. Then several of us from the office who enjoy whiskey gather in the usual spot, grab ice from the bucket if wanted, and pour a taste or two. We even have a set of whiskey glasses, thanks to our super-organized organizer, Rachel.
_ While I was working the counter at Amy’s Bread my first year in New York, I caught one of our bakers headed down to the basement with a bottle of whiskey in her hand. I couldn’t blame her – it had been a really busy week. I gave her an understanding smile, but she insisted that she needed the whiskey for a recipe. That’s when I discovered why I liked the honey cake so much. This cake is a combination of some of my favorite flavors – whiskey, coffee, almonds, and honey. We served it at the bakery around Yom Kippur, but I think of it as a good cake for any holiday – St. Patrick’s Day, perhaps?
Kings County Distillery feels very Brooklyn. Crammed into a 350 sq. ft. room, it’s as if someone decided to distill whiskey in their studio apartment. In the warehouse area of East Williamsburg, the distillery is in a non-descript building on a road where the sign is missing, prompting one man on a recent tour to motion toward his friend, saying, “She thought I brought her to Brooklyn to kill her.”
But once inside and up a staircase, the atmosphere is warm and the people even warmer. At the ripe age of two years old – less time than most whiskeys mature in a barrel – Kings County Distillery is the oldest operating whiskey distillery in New York City. Laws changed over the past few years to make it easier to have a small distillery in New York, especially if locally-grown products are used. Kings County Distillery opened in 2010, had their first moonshine that August and their first bourbon that December, using smaller 5 gallon barrels to speed up the aging process that usually happens in a 53-gallon barrel.
_My only Christmas tradition in Brooklyn is my tree-topper. I didn't have a Christmas tree my first two years here, so last year, I was determined. We picked out our tree at a sidewalk stand up the street and had it "delivered," which in New York means a teenager awkwardly carries the tree behind you and follows you home. Then I had to get a tree stand and find lights and unpack some ornaments. But what to put on top of the tree? I needed something that would fit...like an empty bottle...Michter's just happened to by lying around. This year, Four Roses was about ready, so I took care of those last few drops and topped the tree. Whiskey really is the best Christmas spirit.
Deck the halls with boughs of whiskey
Stand up the tree, it's lookin' tipsy
Now we drink our Lagavulin
And give a toast to this year's coolin'