A super premium, Prohibition-style adult beverage, Manhattan Moonshine is in a class of its own. The world’s first luxury silver whiskey, Manhattan Moonshine is the product of a unique blend of fine New York grains, which do not need significant aging for flavor purposes. The drink is 95 proof, around what one should expect from something called “moonshine,” yet has taste and quality in mind, receiving the highest rating of any white whiskey or moonshine in the world from Whisky Advocate.
Downtown caught up with Manhattan Moonshine founder and CEO, Will Kehler, to learn more about the brand. Will helped reinforce that the name of his acclaimed product is far from a gimmick and showed plenty of knowledge about his craft. For more information on Manhattan Moonshine Speakeasy Nights, click on over to www.manhattan-moonshine.com and/or follow the brand on Twitter via @ManhattanHooch. Will himself is on Twitter under the handle @Will_Kehler, providing some great cocktail recipes on there.
Where did the idea for Manhattan Moonshine come from?
Will Kehler: I have always loved whiskey, and about four years ago I had my first white whiskey…and it was terrible. Then I had another, and it was terrible. After trying samples of the 30 top-rated white whiskeys in the world, I realized that — with few exceptions — white whiskeys currently on the market are not good enough, and so I decided to create a white whiskey of my own. Silver rum is great, silver tequila is great, so why can’t silver whiskey be great?
Was there ever any hesitation as to calling the drink “moonshine?” I mean, not everyone gets the reference…
WK: Initially, I had some reservations about using the term “moonshine” in my whiskey, because the average consumer knows moonshine to be three things: cheap, harsh, and dangerous. I decided to keep “moonshine” in the name because regardless of what you call it — white whiskey, white dog, moonshine, silver whiskey — all have had a very bad reputation in the minds of consumers. So in the end, the quality and packaging of our product will have to speak for itself and show consumers that this is a serious whiskey that is perfect for both sipping and mixing.
Beyond alcohol, are your tastes in other areas vintage?
WK: My tastes have always been eclectic in terms of eras. I think that different things were done right in different eras, and so I have essentially collected interests across time. In particular though, the era around Prohibition in the United States had a lot going for it. Find me a more beautiful car than a Dusenberg Model J from the 1930’s or a better period for jazz music and I’ll find you a unicorn.
What are some of the establishments in New York where your spirit is carried?
WK: Manhattan Moonshine is carried by many of the top cocktail bars in Manhattan, including: Macao Trading Co., Highlands, Bar Cyrk, Mace, and Manhattan Cricket Club. In order to change people’s perspectives about white whiskey, we need for people to have the best experience possible with it, and so it is important for us to put Manhattan Moonshine into the hands of the most talented mixologists.
Do you have a favorite bar in Manhattan?
WK: My favorite bar in Manhattan is Garfunkel’s at 67 Clinton Street. It is a beautiful speakeasy on the Lower East Side that is intimate, fun, and has incredible cocktails.
Even if it includes Manhattan Moonshine within the concoction, what is your drink of choice?
WK: My drink of choice is an Old Fashioned made with Manhattan Moonshine. It is easy to make, soft and sip-able, and the bitters in it highlight and augment the complexities of the whiskey.
Running a business out of New York is known to be especially difficult as there aren’t the tax breaks or the cheaper costs that other areas offer. What is it that keeps you based out here?
WK: New York is certainly not the cheapest place in which to do business, but it is my home, and I am happy to pay the premium to have Manhattan Moonshine be a product of New York.
Is there an accomplishment you’re most proud of with regards to your brand?
WK: The accomplishment I am most proud of is our rating from Whisky Advocate, the go-to publication for whiskey, which gave us the highest rating of any white whiskey or moonshine in the world. I keep a copy of their review and their description of the flavor framed on my desk. Manhattan Moonshine is “light, slightly sweet, and a symphony of cereal grains…This is a wonderfully crafted and unique whiskey.”
Are you hoping to eventually unveil other variations of Manhattan Moonshine? Or to introduce other spirits?
WK: At the moment, I am not planning on unveiling other variations of Manhattan Moonshine, our focus is entirely on this whiskey in its current, delicious form.
The mission of Manhattan Moonshine is to establish silver or white whiskey as a legitimate expression of whiskey that is competitive in terms of flavor, quality, and class. Additionally, we are working to make white whiskey the go-to whiskey for mixed drinks or cocktails, just like silver rum is for rum cocktails and silver tequila is for tequila cocktails, because of their lighter, simpler, and more versatile flavors.
These are both difficult tasks, given the long history of poor quality white whiskeys and long tradition of high-quality aged whiskeys that have a legitimacy and a connoisseurship that is rare in consumer packaged goods. Therefore, the focus is entirely on Manhattan Moonshine in its current form. We must spend all of our time and energy exposing people to our whiskey, educating people about it and our mission, and converting people into Manhattan Moonshine lovers.
When you’re not busy with your company, how do you like to spend your free time?
WK: When I am not busy with my company, I work with a voice coach to learn new jazz songs that I perform at the Manhattan Moonshine Speakeasy Nights, which occur during the Fall and Winter at a rotating selection of speakeasies in the city.
Other than that, I am always exploring the city looking for new bars and restaurants to try. Enough restaurants and bars open and close in this city that it would be a shame to waste the opportunity to try as many as I can.
Are there any upcoming concerts or events that you look forward to attending this summer?
WK: This summer I look forward to the various summer film series’ that are held in public parks around the city. There is something so special about enjoying a movie you love with that many new people.
Finally, Will, any last words for the kids?
WK: Manhattan Moonshine is a whiskey aged less than one hour so that instead of heavy oak and smoke flavors, it simply has a soft grain-forward sweetness and round, spicy finish, making it more approachable for new whiskey drinkers and an easier transition from the vodka, gin, or tequila that they were previously drinking.
In addition to being softer and more approachable than heavily-aged whiskeys, Manhattan Moonshine has another trick up its sleeve that has been drawing in new drinkers: versatility. Because it lacks the heavier barrel flavors that limit the ingredients that aged whiskeys can mix with, Manhattan Moonshine can actually replace other spirits in their respective cocktails. Put simply, this means that millennials looking to start drinking whiskey can start by using Manhattan Moonshine in their current favorite cocktail. Whether it is a Margarita, a Cosmopolitan, or a Martini, Manhattan Moonshine easily replaces the main liquor ingredient and adds a complexity and boldness of flavor that only a whiskey can supply, while also providing a smooth transition into whiskey for new drinkers.