Kings County Barrel Strength Empire Rye (Batch 8)


Classification: Straight Rye

Company: Kings County Distillery

Distillery: Kings County Distillery

Release Date: December 2023

Proof: 121.2

Age: 3 Years (Includes rye up to 6 years old according to the company)

Mashbill: 80% New York Danko Rye, 20% English Malted Barley

Color: Orange-tinted Bronze

MSRP: $100 / 750mL (2024)

Official Website

Kings County Distillery is New York City’s oldest and largest whiskey distillery. They are located in a 120 year old Paymaster Building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Co-owner and distiller Colin Spoelman cut his teeth distilling moonshine in his Brooklyn apartment before deciding to make it his full-time job. Kings County Distillery notably uses Scottish copper pot stills and open fermentation to produce their whiskey.

To be called an Empire Rye, 75% of the mashbill must be grain grown in New York, distilled to no more than 160 proof, aged for a minimum of two years in charred, new oak barrels at not more than 115 proof at time of entry, and must be mashed, fermented, distilled, barreled and aged at a single New York State distillery.

Empire Rye Batch 8 marks a turning point for the distillery’s rye product. According to Kings County, “After evaluating our inventory of Empire Rye in preparation for this year’s annual blend, the blending team determined that the bulk of our Rye inventory had matured — and concentrated — in ways that resembled many of our best cask-strength bourbon offerings. As so, beginning with this eighth batch of our Empire Rye — our first with a three-year age statement — our annual releases will be bottled at barrel strength."

Up until a few years ago, all of Kings County’s whiskeys were aged in 10, 15, 30 gallon barrels with the majority being aged in 15 gallon barrels. In order to keep up with production, the company moved to standard 53 gallon barrels. Empire Rye Batch 8 marks a transitional period for the brand, and its blend includes rye from 10, 15, and 53 gallon barrels between the ages of 3 and 6 years old.


Toasted pine nuts, herbal-heavy water mint, and brandy-soaked raisins form the foundation of the rye’s aroma. There are touches of vanilla, caramel, strawberry rhubarb, and Kings County’s particular scent of barrel char and rich oak within. As a whole, this enchanting aroma is quite earthy and grounded, which gives off a very folksy vibe to the whiskey’s nose. Uniqueness is key here, as there are shades of familiar rye scents, though presented in a new way. This unique spin asks you to step outside your comfort zone for a rye aroma unlike any other you may know.


A rush of flavors hits you all at once, creating a grand opening to the sip. Seared mint, orange chocolate, black currant, and a roasted element make the biggest splash and can be difficult to fully parse at first. Additionally, anise is woven in, which continues throughout the rest of the sip, giving it Absinthe-like qualities at times. As you get acquainted with the whiskey’s proof and robust flavors, their uniqueness begins to be revealed, and you’ll realize this isn’t a traditional tasting rye whiskey. This can lead to confusion, but its originality is a refreshing change of pace.


The palate’s orange chocolate transitions to a lighter candied orange note that provides a welcome moment of sweetness. Though it’s short-lived as fig, pomegranate molasses, and punchy oak come rolling in. Like the palate, the finish is equally potent, overwhelming your tastebuds with a rush of flavor and heat. As the finish recedes, black pepper, allspice, and a touch of clove are introduced, further cementing the fact that this isn’t your typical rye. The sip is an eventful ride, capped off by a finish that stays with you.


Kings County’s bourbon has always tasted uniquely their own, but it's their Empire Rye line that truly traverses a road less traveled. Every batch of Empire Rye I've tasted has had something unique to say. There are commonalities, such as its orange, mint, and punchy oak notes, along with its overall boldness no matter what proof it is. As I’ve said before, there are few 3 year old ryes (especially this one) on the market that feature the amount of texture and intricacies that Kings County’s Empire Rye offers. The jump to barrel strength for this release, and presumably forward, aligns their rye release with their bourbon and doubles down on the distillery's boldness that they have become known for.

Batch 8 also presents a turning point for the distillery's rye portfolio. The aforementioned move to barrel strength will be a major one for fans of the distillery. But it's the inclusion of barrels aged between 3 and 6 years old (with Batch 8 tasting much older than 3 years), and that the batch also includes rye matured in 10, 15, and 53 gallon barrels, that is noteworthy, as the majority of their previous releases were from 15 gallon barrels. When Kings County announced that they began using the industry-standard 53 gallon barrels it was an exciting one, but it could also dramatically affect how Kings County whiskey tastes going forward. Change is exciting, but it can also mean giving up something in return.

Empire Rye Batch 8’s blend of three different barrel sizes doesn’t have an immediate noticeable impact, as its punchy oak is still noticeably present. As such, the sip isn’t for the faint of heart, as it remains heavy-handed and challenges the drinker with its boldness, but offers a dynamic sip in return. This isn’t a rye that is trying to be soft and overly approachable. In a market of ever-increasing neutered ryes, Kings County Empire Rye is a holdout to an older style, but one that also isn’t afraid of offering something new along the way.


Kings County has always priced their whiskeys at a premium, but thankfully they have offered many of them in different size bottles, allowing a greater number of people a lower cost of entry. The company has never tried to appeal to a mass market with their rye product and treated it as a more boutique product with small production runs. While previous Empire Rye batches were also bottled around 100 proof, there have been some Empire Rye releases that were limited to the distillery only that were barrel strength or bottled in bond that saw prices soar to $150+.

Empire Rye Batch 8 is the first widely distributed release of the company’s barrel strength rye, but amazingly the price didn’t increase during this change. On top of that, the rye is older, and is a blend of different barrel sizes. Around this price range, Templeton 10 Year Rye is $85, Barrell Rye Batch 004 is $90, and Old Overholt 10 Year Rye is $110. Looking towards boutique distilleries, Balcones Rye is $44, Chattanooga 99 Rye is $54, Old Pepper Single Barrel Rye is $60, and Old Potrero Single Malt Rye is $65. But these ryes are harder to compare apples to apples, as each offers a very different sip comparably. Empire Rye’s $100 price point and barrel strength proof put it in line with the company’s bourbon. Because of its unique taste, even at 100 proof it was still a fair value, but adding in a higher proof, wider age range, and different sized barrels for this blend, despite what its competition might be charging, Kings County is providing even more value than it did before.


Kings County Empire Rye Batch 8 is once again a unique tasting and bold rye from the Brooklyn-based distillery, but the latest batch offers more value in the form of higher proof, more age, and a tapestry of barrel sizes to make up its blend.

With all of the changes that have come to Kings County Empire Rye Batch 8, it still tastes uniquely Kings County with all of the texture, boldness, roughness, and flavor concentration that makes their whiskey tick for so many whiskey drinkers. There still isn’t a rye that tastes like Kings County Empire Rye, and for fans of rye that is something to celebrate. Kings County Empire Rye continues to be a one-of-a-kind rye that isn’t trying to emulate anyone else, and instead is blazing its own trail. That means some won’t “get it,” or that it just simply won’t agree with them. But for those who are excited by a whiskey that doesn’t pull any punches, and who welcome a challenge, Kings County Empire Rye is a pour willing to provide just that.

The sample used for this review was provided to us at no cost courtesy its respective company. We thank them for allowing us to review it with no strings attached.
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Written By: Eric Hasman

February 16, 2024
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