Kings County Distillery, the small Williamsburg, Brooklyn operation that boasts the distinction of being the first legal liquor distillery to open in New York City since Prohibition, has come up with something exceptional: chocolate whiskey.
I didn’t know I needed a chocolate whiskey until I sampled some during a tour last August of the little warehouse space Kings County calls home. We’d been sipping some of their unaged “moonshine” whiskey and sampling various barrels of their aged bourbon when Nicole Austin, one of the distillers, poured us an experimental concoction. It was incredibly delicious.
“When is this going to be sold in stores?” we all asked eagerly. They weren’t sure then, and when I checked back with Austin in November, she said they were still working out the practicality of making it in large quantities.
The chocolate whiskey is murky brown in color. It smells like dark cocoa powder with a slight alcoholic twinge and it tastes like thick, slightly bitter raw chocolate. What makes this so good is that it isn’t a liqueur; it’s 40% alcohol, unsweetened. You’ve got to shake the bottle before you pour; there’s a lot of cacao sediment in there.
They make it by taking their moonshine and infusing it with ground cacao husks—the kind sometimes used for mulch—from Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory, a nearby business with a similar upstart, artisan background. (As an aside, I’ve been eating Mast Brothers chocolate bars for a few years now. Their Brooklyn Blend, a dark chocolate containing 73% cacao, is my favorite.) Now that this product exists, I’m wondering why no one thought of it before. It’s so obvious.
Like Kings County’s other products (moonshine and bourbon), the chocolate whiskey comes in a small, 200ml flask. Like the moonshine, it’s usually sold for $19.99 a bottle. Now, 200ml is just shy of seven ounces. The way I usually pour drinks, that’s about four glasses to sip—or three if I’m pouring generously. This is very expensive stuff.
As I’ve written before, small craft distilleries like Kings County charge so much (a normal-sized bottle, 750ml, would be $75) because they’re small and they have high costs. But there are two huge downsides to this business model. First, you’ve got to convince consumers that a few amateurs in Brooklyn can make a whiskey worth $75 a bottle when some damn fine stuff comes from distillers with generations of experience for a third of the price (think Jim Beam for $20 a liter). And second, some other new local distillers, like Breuckelen Distilling in Sunset Park, Brooklyn and New York Distilling Company in Williamsburg, sell their spirits for around half the price. I’m guessing it’s a case of Kings County having zero dollars in start-up money and the others having much, much more. I love what Kings County is doing, but obviously, the pricing still rankles me.
That said, I’ve paid for four bottles of their three types of whiskey so far, and I recommend the chocolate without reservations. It’s exquisite.
It’s best sipped neat: the rich, bitter chocolate flavors are very rewarding on their own. I was going to make a simple Old Fashioned with it (two ounces of whiskey, two dashes of bitters and a sugar cube, stirred with ice), but I decided to try something else. I poured an ounce and a half of the chocolate into a mixing glass with ice and added a half ounce of a 20% abv coffee liqueur, along with two healthy dashes of Fee Brothers’ Aztec Chocolate Bitters. The coffee liqueur, I figured, would be sweet enough that a sugar cube wouldn’t be necessary. Wrong. It needed a little extra sweetening. So I broke out a teaspoon of my homemade Alderwood smoked maple syrup and stirred it again. Yowza! It was pretty damn good. The smoke, the chocolate, and the coffee, united by the spice of the bitters, was a potent combination. But I still think it’s an awful lot of work for something that tastes so good neat.