Colin Spoelman and David Haskell founded Kings County Distillery in New York City. The city’s oldest and largest whiskey distillery. The distilling process takes place on site in their Paymaster Building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, half an hour walk from the wonderful River Café under Brooklyn Bridge.
Being a bit of a cemetery geek myself, I was grabbed by the opening sentence: ‘I have become a connoisseur of cemeteries’. And what about the unconventional but brilliant idea of one of the employees of a local cemetery to organise a visit to the graves of former distillers followed by a whiskey tasting at one of the craft disitilleries. Amazingly enough Spoelman and Haskell sat down for the second time to write another book about whiskey. This time a book about men that rebuilt the distilling industry after it had been ‘killed’ by women. This more or less sums it up but needs some explaining.
Long before prohibition set in around 1920, New York City produced 25 percent of the nation’s distilled spirits. We talk about the 1840s here, the time when the temperance movements all over the US were closing ranks and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union was officially founded in 1874. It were mainly women that led the Union, Francis Elizabeth Willard in particular. They were quite successful in igniting a nation wide decision to prohibit the use of alcohol in the year 1920. FEW Spirits in her town Evanston chose to name the first legal distillery in Evanston in respectful, smiling homage to one of the city’s most historic figures.
Having said that book is ordered chronologically starting with the first American distiller William Thorpe in 1620, followed in 1638 by my countryman Willem Kieft in 1638 and ending in 2006 by distilled spirits salesman Sidney Frank. A perfect bibliography sums up all the archives that were used to compose this wonderful ‘Dead Distillers. A history of the upstarts and outlaws who made American spirits’ (2016, Abrams). I truly hope Spoelman and Haskell will team up in the future to give us more insights on whiskey related topics.