Don’t Let the Name Fool You! The Drinks at Dismal Harmony Will Lift Your Spirits

Morristown’s buzzy new distillery is serving up spellbinding cocktails and liquors.

A whiskey sour at Dismal Harmony Distilling in Morristown
Dismal Harmony Distilling in Morristown makes even the stodgy whiskey sour sexy. Photo: Courtesy of Robby Seibert

When I read right here on New Jersey Monthly about a distillery that opened in Morristown last month, I was stuck on the name: Dismal Harmony. I couldn’t imagine why an ambitious business owner would choose this potentially off-putting moniker.

So I did some digging. I found out that Dismal Harmony is a verdant park in Morris County’s Mendham Township, and that its hiking trail crisscrosses two creeks that were long ago named Dismal and Harmony. But why would Morris County settlers call a creek Dismal? Turns out that was the Colonial-era word for swamp.

Still, none of this explained Dismal Harmony as a handle for a bar/distillery startup. So I went straight to the source: the owners.

Dismal Harmony Distilling in Morristown

Photo: Courtesy of Robby Seibert

Bob Dillon chuckled, and his wife, Karen, grinned. “First of all, we love the Dismal Harmony hiking trail,” Bob explains. “It’s beautiful and shadowy, and fits its name.” Adds Karen, “The poetry of the name appealed to us.” Continues Bob: “I play the drums, so harmony spoke to me. And a little mystery is good for a new business.”

He’s right. Curiosity, word of mouth and the power of social media have packed Dismal Harmony’s bar. Cocktail connoisseurs and casual boozers alike are awestruck by Dismal Harmony’s libations: deeply delicious and wildly innovative. Every one of the house cocktails is unlike anything you’ve tasted before. They’re nothing short of bewitching.

The Dismal Harmony Distilling team in Morristown

The Dismal Harmony team with owners Bob Dillon (far left), Karen Dillon (far right) and cocktail master Robby Seibert (bearded). Photo: Courtesy of Dismal Harmony Distilling

This sorcery rests upon the drinks’ base liquors, all crafted and distilled by Bob—a “tech guy” who also designs entertainment systems for luxury car brands. “I’m fascinated by how things are made,” he says. “I was that Ocean County kid who took apart and rebuilt stuff.” As an adult, he developed a passion for spirits—especially whiskey—and became interested in “how liquor comes to be.” He hand-built a small home distillery and began experimenting. “Our friends would come over, dip into Bob’s liquors, and tell him he had to open a bar to showcase them,” recalls Karen. “We started to take the idea seriously.”

That bar went from fantasy to business plan when the Dillons met with their future head bartender, Robby Seibert, an accomplished chef/mixologist (and trained alto saxophonist!) who previously worked at Gladstone Tavern. Great food, Seibert says, aspires to be simultaneously “comfortable and intriguing…delicious yet surprising”—and the same, he says, goes for cocktails. “When I tasted Bob’s liquors,” he recalls, “I knew they could be the basis of absolutely one-of-a-kind, unforgettable mixed drinks that people would connect over.”

Dismal Harmony’s gin

Dismal Harmony’s gin only looks innocent. Photo: Courtesy of Robby Seibert

Bob’s four hard liquors, distilled on Dismal Harmony’s premises in gleaming copper and steel stills, are distinctive enough to be savored solely on the rocks. The whiskey is lightly fruity with a kiss of chocolate, while the bourbon conveys oak and toffee. The ultra-smooth vodka courses with actual flavor, and the Afternoon Tea Gin is eye-opening. (Gin drinkers are used to herbal notes, but this version seduces with hints of fragrant tea, flowers and exotic spices.)

Equally exceptional? Bob’s quintet of intensely flavored liqueurs—inspired, he says, by the legendary aperitifs created centuries ago in European monasteries. His take on trendy, sweet-and-sour amaro—dubbed Francia after his maternal grandmother Emily’s family—is subtle and cocktail-ready. Libertasse, akin to triple sec, is bright with mandarin orange and Moroccan lemon. Dismal Harmony’s limoncello is the first version I’ve ever tasted that did not come across like a yellow lollipop. The high-proof Monk invokes the sweet herbs of a French monastery’s Chartreuse liqueur but forges ahead, settling into a gloriously green garden of delights. And the stunningly original Vidisha’s Masala is redolent of the perfumed brown spices that make Indian food so memorable. (It’s named after the spice mixture a Dillon family friend cooks with.)

Dismal Harmony’s mixologist, Robby Seibert

Dismal Harmony’s mega-mixologist, Robby Seibert. Photo: Courtesy of KT Harrison

While rewarding on their own, Bob’s nine spirits form the mighty foundation of Dismal Harmony’s dozen-plus signature cocktails, all conjured by Seibert. Here, classics like the Negroni, Manhattan, old fashioned and cosmopolitan attain nirvana, borne by their spirits’ complexity as well as Seibert’s focused imagination. The herbaceous, fruity, star anise-laced Holden My Drink is a world-traveled G&T, while the Tuscan Sunset, topped with egg-white foam and laced with blood orange, could be a breakfast drink from paradise.

Nowadays, people often wonder where the magic has gone in their daily lives. But it’s still there, if you’re open to it. Enter Dismal Harmony and let the spirits and cocktails cast their spell.

Dismal Harmony Distilling, 77 Morris Street, Morristown; 973-200-2242

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