America really loves a good disrupter story.
So imagine the salivation of mainstream media when a Brooklyn distillery makes Bourbon, wins a few awards and is owned by a Kentuckian. That’s what’s happening with King’s County Distillery, a Brooklyn-based distillery that draws comparisons to the 1990s famous hot sauce commercial, “Made in New York City.”
This New York Bourbon story really begins more than a decade ago when Hudson Baby Bourbon burst onto the scene. It was cool and new, so the media lined up to cover it. Let’s face it, New Yorkers love supporting their own, especially the elected officials.
That was never more apparent than when Sen. Chuck Schumer thought he gifted New York Bourbon to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, only to have the Bourbon world Tweet that it was a sourced whiskey. Yeah, he gave the Kentucky senator a bottle of Widow Jane, which was distilled in Kentucky, bottled in New York. Oh, the irony.
The Bourbon geekdom world was turned upside down for a solid two minutes on social media, which is an eternity on Twitter. In their posts, nearly everybody was tagging King’s County, the real New York Bourbon that is certainly a conversation starter. Founded by Kentuckian Colin Spoelman and writer David Haskell in 2010, King’s County earned its whiskey fame through small barrels, pot distilling and for making peated Bourbon. I mean, you really can’t get much less Kentucky than that: Hey, here’s some peated barley meant for Scotland, let’s throw it in the Bourbon mash and see what happens.
Couple these anecdotes with the fact that Spoelman grew up in a Kentucky region known for its barefoot and toothless parties and attended one of the world’s most-prestigious universities in Yale. He later made moonshine in his apartment; media cannot wait to pit him against his native lands.
That’s exactly what the Wall Street Journal recently did when it reported King’s County is coming after Kentucky with the headline, “New York Bourbons Are Nipping at Kentucky’s Heels.”
What the hell just happened to letting a New York Bourbon be a New York Bourbon?
This led to Kentuckians revolting against this narrative and newspapers citing Kentucky governors using the coined phrase, “Kentucky makes 95 per cent of the world’s Bourbon. The other five per cent is counterfeit.” Story and social media commenters tore King’s County to shreds, but what do people expect?
Should they turn down a great opportunity to be in one of the world’s most read newspapers? Should they run in fear of Kentucky?
This “New York vs. Kentucky” storyline puts King’s County in an unfortunate position to either tout its geographical location over the Mecca of American whiskey or miss the national press altogether.
This story perfectly describes our society right now: We cannot just enjoy anything. We must hear its story and find a way to contradict and or create drama around it.
When new brands surface, there’s a growing population of armchair trademark lawyers seeking potential civil cases to promote. They want to see a lawsuit of some kind and enjoy the popcorn as it unfolds. Weird.
When somebody loves a whiskey, posts a picture of it online, somebody will rip them apart that person’s opinion. Just because they can.
What the hell just happened to letting a New York Bourbon be a New York Bourbon? Or let somebody enjoy what they like?
I’m all for educating somebody on something like “Hey, senator, that New York Bourbon is really from Kentucky. Maybe try Kings County instead.”
But to be uncivil and vilify a distillery for a newspaper’s headline is beneath the people who read this magazine. We’re so wound up that everybody just wants to fight over everything from the best mustard to our president.
I'm not innocent. I've told people flavoured whiskey and vodka are evil incarnations of goat devils.
Does that make me just as bad as the Facebook commenter or Twitter handle that made King’s County Distillery Bourbon enemy No. 1?
Nah. I’m not stirring the pot; I’m stopping the spread of goat devils. There’s a difference.