How A Kentucky-Born Moonshiner Conquered New York City

As a teenager in Cawood, Kentucky–which at the time was a dry county–Colin Spoelman would venture to the backwoods and get his booze from a guy known as the Pine Mountain Bootlegger. “Growing up there is what got me curious about the culture of alcohol,” says Spoelman, the cofounder of Kings County Distillery.

Colin Spoelman

After moving to New York City, where home distilleries have been outlawed by the city since Prohibition, Spoelman brought a touch of Kentucky to his new home and set up shop in his Brooklyn apartment. Despite the risks, his underground business quickly expanded and a Village Voice reporter contacted him about a story. Spoelman began to get nervous. “If the Village Voice can find me, surely The FBI can too,” he recalls thinking.

But when the city changed the distillery license fee from $13,000 to $128, Spoelman jumped at the opportunity to register with the state in 2010. He jumped so quickly, in fact, that Kings County Distillery became the first of its kind in New York, at the time making them both the oldest and newest distillery. “It’s really cool to be at the forefront of something new, that’s very old,” says Spoelman. “In a way, I can go back to the 1850s or the 1700s and look at the way that they were distilling whiskey, or spirits back then.”

Spoelman hopes Kings County can be at the forefront of the new micro-distillery revolution, and continues to make handmade moonshine and bourbon out of the 113-year-old Paymaster Building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard they now inhabit.SS