New York City used to have hundreds of breweries, wineries and distilleries, but Prohibition wiped them all out. In 2002, the state of New York created a new licensing scheme for distilleries that has made it easy for almost anyone to get into the whiskey making business.
Slowly but surely, new distilleries are opening up. NYC’s oldest legal whiskey distillery, Kings County Distillery, will celebrated its birthday in April. It’ll be one year old.
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A Kentucky native, Spoelman has long been fascinated with “moonshining and distilling culture,” but he found that New York was sadly lacking when it came to distilling. Following a few successful experiments with what one might call “informal, extralegal alcohol production,” he decided to see what he needed to do to create a legal distillery.
Partnering with his college roommate, David Haskell, he was surprised to discover that New York offered a special, inexpensive permit for small-batch distilleries. To qualify for the license, which the state launched in 2002 and expanded in 2007, the pair had to go through a quick interview, pay a small fee and agree to source half of their ingredients from New York farmers.
“It was actually serendipitous,” Spoelman remembers. “Originally, we used a generic flake corn, but we started using organic corn that was grown near the Finger Lakes. It made a big difference, and the finished product tasted much better.”