Drink It Tuesday: An Interview with William Kehler, Founder of Manhattan Moonshine

Drink It Tuesday: An Interview with William Kehler, Founder of Manhattan Moonshine

Manhattan Moonshine is inspired by the cocktail renaissance that occurred during American Prohibition, and the glamorous yet subversive nightlife that accompanied it. It is also considered to be the world’s first luxury un-aged whiskey. Perfect straight up, and even better when mixed in cocktails, Founder & CEO, William Kehler, has crafted a revolutionary spirit as more and more consumers begin to explore Whiskey. With its growing popularity, it has quickly become the number one choice for the discerning drinkers of New York.

I was first introduced to Manhattan Moonshine at this past summer’s Hamptons Brunch hosted by RAND Luxury in August when Kehler debuted the first premium un-aged whiskey. Kehler’s career path began in new product development, working for an innovation consulting firm. “Consumer packaging companies would come to us and say we need a product that fulfills a certain requirement or demographic,” explains Kehler. “For example, we may have had to spin a diet soda brand into something more appealing to a millennial market. With this came great training with creating new product categories.” He also worked closely with Alvarez and Marsal, a boutique business consulting firm. There he worked in sales and marketing restructuring. Kehler learned how to create, restructure, and optimize sales forces.

“Whiskey has always been my favorite of the hard liquors. Three years ago, I tasted an un-aged whiskey for the first time, and it was terrible,” Kehler adds. “I tried another, and it was also terrible. I thought, silver rum silver tequila are wonderful, so there must be a good silver whiskey out there.” Kehler then went to respected agencies that specialized in taste testing alcohol, and purchased the best white whiskies in the country. Following a series of taste testing sessions with family and friends, the consensus was there wasn’t an outstanding product. 

Manhattan Moonshine

What made them not good? White whiskey falls into two basic categories: essential a neutral spirit or a vodka, where all of the flavor stripped out of it, or made from an unaged version of an aged whiskey recipe, which gives it a grassy, harsh taste. When making whiskey, the product you create would then be aged in barrel. While it is in the barrel, many complex chemical reactions are taking place. The oak absorbs some of the alcohol and leaches out some of the off flavors. Because it is meant to be aged, it has that harsh taste that is neither palatable nor mixable.

Why is Manhattan Moonshine different? It has been developed to be the perfect whiskey for cocktails. Aged whiskey can be very difficult to mix in to certain cocktails because of the dominance of open smoke flavors. “By creating a more softer, more approachable whiskey that does not have those heavier barrel flavors, we can create something that can mix into a wider variety of cocktails. Manhattan Moonshine has been mixed with everything from chrysanthemum to black walnut peel, to tonic water. That versatility that we really emphasize is what consumers are drawn to.”

By using a unique blend of four premium New York grains and innovative, modern production methods, Kehler has created a wonderful, complex whiskey that does not need significant barrel aging to deliver its exceptional flavor. Because Manhattan Moonshine is barely aged, it does not have the heavy notes that barrel aging imparts on aged whiskeys which can overpower cocktails and make them hard to mix. Instead, Manhattan Moonshine’s smooth, grain-forward flavor is the perfect centerpiece for a wider range of cocktails, both classic and modern.

Manhattan Moonshine is very enjoyable straight, though the cocktail element is emphasized because it is easier to be introduced to. I will be honest, I enjoy my whiskey straight up and have always been introduced to new liquors straight up, rather than mixed in cocktails.

Why create this product? “Premium American whiskey is the fastest growing segment of liquor in the United States, which is driven primarily because the drinking demographic is expanding. Young people, and women are now interested, and it is not just for older, white men. Whiskey may seem like an intimidating category to some but that is what we are trying to change.”

The inspiration behind the art deco, 1920s-style decanter is the cocktail renaissance that happened in NY but also all over the country, which coincided with moonshining rising to its high water mark. “People are used to seeing moonshine or un-aged whiskey in cheap packaging,” adds Kehler. “People are curious about Manhattan Moonshine’s packaging because it is so unique and elegant. Many people are surprised by the complexity of flavors in a clear spirit. The alcohol level is 47.5% or a 95 proof, a little over proof for a whiskey but the taste is soft and subtle (rather than harsh), and it is a very mixable product.”

Summer events in the Hamptons are currently in the planning process, with a significant sales push for bars and restaurants on the East End. You will see Manhattan Moonshine at the annual NYC Craft and Distillers Festival on April 2nd. Kehler also does jazz nights with a cabaret singer and band at various speakeasies in the city, with locations rotating often. Each new venue will create its own Manhattan Moonshine cocktail, it is never the same event. Kehler is hoping to do one or two on Long Island. He is also a classically trained opera singer, and has a background in jazz and will perform onstage for part of the night.

For locations where you can purchase Manhattan Moonshine, please click here. You may also purchase a 750ml bottle online ($39.99). Also sell at Castors, and Drink Up NY.



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