Booze and News

David Haskell balances life between magazines and whiskey

David Haskell. (Photo by Patrick McMullan)
David Haskell. (Photo by Patrick McMullan)

David Haskell founded the Kings County Distillery at the height of the recession in 2009, and, as an editor at New York magazine, he took comfort in knowing that he might have another job waiting for him if the magazine business imploded.

“It didn’t seem like the worst thing to make a contingency plan,” Mr. Haskell, who is 34, said.

Four years on, and Mr. Haskell, who was promoted to deputy editor at New York this past May and whose distillery is still in business, is now learning to balance life in the demanding worlds of magazine journalism and whiskey peddling.

“When I’m closing features, it can be a very intense process, and, if it is one of those weeks, I am probably harder to reach,” Mr. Haskell said. “But the nice thing about it is that the magazine’s intensity is cyclical, and so I have a pretty good sense of when I’m going to be out of commission for a while.”

Mr. Haskell’s regular duties at the distillery, which operates out of the 113-year-old Paymaster Building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and is the first in the city since Prohibition, include giving tours of the building on weekends along with more consuming projects like fundraising and envisioning long-term goals with Colin Spoelman, his business partner and former Yale roommate.

Mr. Spoelman runs the day-to-day affairs of the distillery. And so, Mr. Haskell noted, the stress that comes with holding down two jobs is most often mental.

“It can be overwhelming in this kind of brain space aspect,” Mr. Haskell said. It even runs in the family—his great grandfather, it turns out, was a bootlegger. “But the other fortunate thing is that business has been good.”

The distillery, which is small-scale but is growing, employs about a dozen people, and Mr. Haskell and his partner have just written a new book, to be published this week, called The Kings County Distillery Guide to Urban Moonshining, which should draw attention to their endeavor. (Mr. Spoelman wrote it, and Mr. Haskell, of course, did the editing.)

Would Mr. Haskell ever consider leaving his post at New York to devote himself to the whiskey trade alone?

“I look around at the media world, and I can’t imagine a better job,” he said. “Distilling would probably be less fun for me if I moved it from second position to first position.”

Mr. Haskell has also taken inspiration from others in the field of journalism who are balancing many things at once.

“Every couple of months, someone at work announces that she’s pregnant, and I just look at all those people I work with who are raising families, and it doesn’t seem to me that what I’m doing is any more intense than that.”

Plus, the distillery affords Mr. Haskell the opportunity to pursue interests beyond whiskey. Earlier this month, an exhibit opened there that featured black-and-white photographs taken by the New Yorker staff photographer Pari Dukovic in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which hit the city almost a year ago. Many of those photos ran in New York, and Mr. Haskell worked closely with the magazine’s director of photography, Jody Quon, to curate the show.

“For me,” Mr. Haskell said, “it felt like a nice opportunity to blend my worlds.”

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