“Whiskey War” of Brooklyn, image from Kings County Distillery’s Boozeum

whiskey-riots-kings

Dec 01, 2012

This image, taken from the Boozeum at Kings County Distillery, depicts the “Whiskey War” of Brooklyn, which happened in December of 1869.

At the time, the neighborhood of Vinegar Hill, then called “Irishtown”, had a predominantly Irish immigrant population and a number of small whiskey distilleries. After the excise tax of 1862, many small distillers continued to operate without paying the tax, which was about triple today’s rate.

When the Civil War concluded, the Federal government began to crack down on the “moonshiners” of Brooklyn, sending in uniformed troops stationed in the Brooklyn Navy Yard to assist revenue officers as they dismantled illegal distilleries. During the 1869 incident, the residents of the neighborhood fought back at the army, throwing bricks and rocks at the soldiers as chaos descended on the neighborhood. Finally, the troops were forced to fix their bayonets in order to escape the angry mob that had developed around them as they were pouring whiskey mash in the streets, retreating back to the Navy Yard with 13 stills.

These raids would continue one the next two years, and finally ended after a revenue officer was shot and killed by one of the bootleggers, perhaps the only IRS agent ever killed in the line of duty in American History.

-Colin Spoelman, Kings County Distillery