An Insider’s Guide to 25 New Jersey Distilleries

Thanks to a change in liquor laws in 2013, distilleries have been cropping up across the Garden State. Here, an overview of the craft spirits they produce.

From left: Distilling assistant Sara Cartelli oversees the time-consuming distillation process at Claremont Distilled Spirits in Fairfield; a bit of booze at Tadmore Distilling Co. in Salem. Photos by Felicia Perretti


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Last winter, not too many people were aware of New Jersey’s craft-distilling industry. Then in March, local distilleries thrust themselves into the spotlight, quickly shifting production to hand sanitizer during a national shortage caused by the pandemic.

“It was good for the industry to show that we could be productive in a realm outside alcohol,” says John Granata, co-owner of Jersey Spirits Distilling Co. in Fairfield and president of the New Jersey Craft Distillers Guild. While distillers were happy to help fill the need for hand sanitizer, they worried about what the future held for the industry and the spirits they’ve worked tirelessly to refine.

The craft-distilling industry in Jersey is young—especially compared to other states where legislation allowed craft distilleries to open sooner. Though the Garden State was home to the nation’s first distillery—Laird & Company received its license in 1780—it wasn’t until 2013, when Governor Chris Christie signed a bill into law that created a craft-distillery license, lowering the annual price of a license from $12,500 to $938, that the floodgates began to open. 

Under the new law, Jersey distilleries can offer tours, tastings and on-premise sales, but are not allowed to operate an on-site restaurant or even sell food.

Total production is relatively small. Jersey distilleries are limited to 20,000 gallons a year—a drop in the bucket when you consider the American Craft Spirits Association defines a craft distillery as one producing fewer than 750,000 gallons annually.

As with any young industry, best practices and standards are evolving. Some distillers believe a Jersey craft spirit should always be distilled from raw ingredients such as corn, rye, barley, grapes or apples, sourced locally when possible. Others want to be allowed to purchase affordable neutral spirits from other states to age and bottle themselves. If a label says “distilled and bottled” by a Jersey distillery, you know the contents completed all stages of production here.

These considerations have not stunted the industry’s growth from a small handful of distilleries in 2013 to more than two dozen today. Also improved are the quality and diversity of spirits being made, including vodka, gin, whiskey, bourbon, rum and brandy, as well as more obscure liquors such as aquavit and raki. “We may be late to the table, but we’re not doing it poorly,” says Granata.

Here, we offer an insider’s guide to the current roster of Jersey craft distilleries and their spirited creations.—Shelby Vittek

distilleries

Photo by Felicia Perretti

All Points West

Newark

Gil Spaier won three awards in 2019 for resurrecting a largely forgotten style of American whiskey—malt and grain pot-still. Surviving “a year of belt-tightening” in 2020, Spaier held back some barrels to enable him to release a three-year aged version this year. He suspended in-house tastings for virtual ones. A student of history, Spaier discovered that the oldest rum distillery in North America was founded in Staten Island in 1664 by Dutch traders. That inspired him to reproduce that rum, which won a John Barleycorn Award in December.—Eric Levin

73 Tichenor Street, 646-251-3176

distilleries

Kelly Lynch and Bill Tambussi share distilling duties at Asbury Park Distilling Co. Photos by Felicia Perretti

Asbury Park Distilling Co.

Asbury Park

Founded in 2017, this distillery in the heart of Asbury Park was the Garden State’s first in a downtown area. Inside the brick building, distillers Bill Tambussi and Kelly Lynch churn out award-winning renditions of vodka, whiskey, gin and more. From the small, modern tasting room, visitors get a glimpse of the copper still and choose from a rotating selection of nearly 20 cocktails. To support their intricate drink recipes, bartender Casey Bowen and the APD team craft such ingredients as limoncello infused with coffee beans, amaro, herbal wines (to mimic vermouth), as well as tonics, tinctures and syrups—all made in-house.—Shea Swenson

527 Lake Avenue, 732-455-3935

distilleries

Clockwise from top left: The Cinncimaple Sour features a five-grain bourbon, maple syrup, lemon juice and cinnamon; Claremont founder Tim Koether; A Drink for Jersey Locals made with blueberry vodka, preserves and lemonade. Photos by Felicia Perretti

Claremont Distilled Spirits

Fairfield

Claremont’s vodka is an award winner, but founder and head distiller Tim Koether is just as dedicated to whiskey. Alongside his distilling assistant, Sara Cartelli, Koether produces a maple syrup-barreled bourbon; a full-flavored five-grain bourbon; and a 102-proof whiskey collaboration with Cherry Hill’s Flying Fish Brewing Co. The latter is distilled from Flying Fish’s Abbey Dubbel wort (unfermented beer). “We are willing to experiment, to say, ‘What would happen if we used different grains or hops?’ That’s where the fun is,” says Koether. Claremont, opened in 2015, also creates vodka infusions with blueberry and peach—made with Jersey fruit—and a selection of moonshine. Visit the tasting room to try spirits neat or in a cocktail, and tour the large, barrel-lined warehouse where the distilling happens.—Shea Swenson

25 Commerce Road, 973-227-7027

Cape May Distillery

Cape May Court House

Founded in 2015 by two college friends, this distillery reflects its coastal location. While Cape May Distillery turns out whiskey, flavored vodkas and gins, its specialty is rum, with flavors like blueberry, strawberry banana and toasted coconut. While all may be enjoyed neat, the distillery also has an impressive cocktail program in its tasting room. From coconut rum with peanut butter cup-and-chocolate mix, to a barrel-aged rum combined with pumpkin cream and spice, there are plenty of drinks to appeal to all vacationers.—John Holl

371 Route 47, 609-305-4853

Colts Neck Stillhouse

Colts Neck

Taking his at-home distilling hobby to large-scale production, Geoff Karch opened Colts Neck Stillhouse in 2019. The distillery, housed in a former farmhouse, has plenty of space to spread out, with indoor and outdoor seating. Under the MuckleyEye label, Colts Neck makes white rum, vodka, gin and an array of bourbons. In the tasting room, house-made mixers complement the spirits, shaken and stirred into cocktails on a revolving menu. The distillery recently introduced ready-to-drink canned cocktails—featuring its own spirits, real fruit and herbs—with new flavors to be released throughout the year.—Shea Swenson

304 Route 34, 732-526-1130

Corgi Spirits

Jersey City 

Founder Bob Hagemann’s love of all things British inspired him to name his distillery after Queen Elizabeth II’s favorite breed of canine. Elegant paintings of corgis line the walls of the tasting area, with stylish rooms for private events. Hudson County’s only distillery, Corgi opened in 2017 and specializes in diverse expressions of gin, including one that uses fragrant Earl Grey tea as a main ingredient, and seasonal gins made with honey syrup (spring), cucumber and citrus (summer), smoked applewood (fall), and dried fruit and spices (winter). Distiller Nate Thompson also crafts vodka and whiskey, and bartenders churn out bar-quality craft cocktails with their unique spirits.—Shelby Vittek

1 Distillery Drive, 201-448-4184

Dachshund Distilling

Neptune City

Despite their distillery’s name, founders Tim Sexsmith and Susan Monroe do not have a pet dachshund. Instead, the husband-wife duo drew connections between their operation and the small breed’s demeanor. “They are little dogs with big-dog attitudes,” says Sexsmith. Fittingly, the rum-focused distillery—opened in August—occupies a mere 400 square feet. Sexsmith quit his career as a marine service engineer to open Dachshund and does most of the distilling himself. Self-taught, he crafts molasses-based rums, including an unaged silver rum; a spiced variety with notes of ginger, vanilla and orange peel; and one infused with coffee beans. The tasting room offers simple mixers, such as ginger beer and cola, or you can sip the smooth rums neat.—Shea Swenson

1103A Sixth Avenue, 732-481-4566

Heathermeade Distilling

Kenilworth

The flagship spirit of this Union County distillery is Tree City vodka—the brand many use to identify the business. Named after an Arbor Day designation for Cranford (where owner Rich Bentrewicz resides), the vodka is distilled from corn harvested from farms across the state. The 80-proof vodka is easily recognizable on shelves thanks to its bright, friendly, lime-green tree graphic. Visitors can sample Tree City in the small tasting room, which also accommodates small parties, nights out and casual gatherings. With cocktails that are affordable, and service that aims to please, this distillery has it made in the shade.—John Holl

835 Fairfield Avenue, 908-514-8429

Independent Spirits Distillery

Woolwich Township

The first craft distillery to open in Gloucester County, Independent Spirits aims to source all ingredients locally. “We don’t make a rum because we don’t have sugar in New Jersey,” says owner Morten Thomsen, who opened the distillery on a 10-acre farm with his wife, Kerry, in 2015. The couple’s farm-to-glass creations include a wheat-based vodka, gin, unaged corn whiskey, and an exceptional aquavit, a clear Scandinavian spirit similar to gin that’s distilled with caraway and dill. Customers frequently pop into the tasting room looking for elusive bottles of Apple Pie Moonshine, a small-batch spirit the Thomsens make by distilling apples baked in cinnamon and sugar.—Shelby Vittek

131 Davidson Road, 609-202-5458

Jersey Artisan Distilling

Fairfield

In his younger days, Brant Braue raced motorcycles and trucks, flew small planes, and considered himself “a troublemaker.” Opening Jersey Artisan Distilling in 2013, the first distillery licensed in New Jersey since Prohibition, fit in with that. Bankrolled by family, Braue designed and built the stills himself. The distillery is known for its silver rum—“very grassy, with almost a tequila note,” as Braue, 48, describes it. There’s also a dark rum that he calls “smoky-oaky, almost whiskeyesque.” The tasting room is closed until the pandemic subsides.—Eric Levin

32C Pier Lane West, 862-702-8935

distilleries

From left: John Granata, co-owner of Jersey Spirits and president of the New Jersey Craft Distillers Guild, advocates for distilleries and their legislative interests; Jersey Spirits co-owner Susan Lord crafts cocktails like the Jersey Boy, featuring the distillery’s single-malt whiskey and apple pie-flavored Jersey Hooch. Photos by Felicia Perretti

Jersey Spirits Distilling

Fairfield

The first spirit John Granata made after getting his distilling license was bourbon, which by law needs to be aged in new oak for at least two years. “I needed to get it into barrels and put it away,” says Granata, who opened Jersey Spirits in 2015 with Susan Lord and Elizabeth MacDonald. Two years later, they released Crossroads Bourbon Whiskey, the first bourbon commercially produced in New Jersey since before Prohibition. Granata, a so-called purist, starts with raw ingredients for each of his small-batch spirits, sourcing corn, rye, wheat, barley, hops and more from 18 different farms. He then refines them through distillation. In the tasting room, you can sample a signature vodka, whiskeys, bourbons, gins, rums and house-made bitters, while perusing the local distilling factoids adorning the walls.—Shelby Vittek

1275 Bloomfield Avenue, Building 7 Unit 40B; 973-227-5333

Lazy Eye Distillery

Wildwood

With two locations, a warm-weather seasonal spot in Wildwood and another in Richland, this family-owned distillery has racked up numerous awards since opening in 2014. Distilling has been a family passion for generations, say owners Carol and Nick Kafkalas. That led to the distilling of raki, an anise-flavored aperitif not commonly found in the United States, but popular in Greece and the Baltics. Lazy Eye has also taken to barrel-aging its vodka, giving a woody twist to a neutral spirit. This, they say, is a bridge between vodka and bourbon drinkers. For those looking for convenience, Brighter Days is a bottled lemon-lime vodka cocktail. The small tasting room in Richland offers curbside pickup, an outdoor tasting area and the ability to host events.—John Holl

135 East Spicer Avenue, 609-305-4755

Little Water Distillery

Atlantic City

In a city known for excess, it makes sense that a distillery would make its home among the casinos. Founded by brothers Eric and Mark Ganter in 2016, Little Water turns out flavorful whiskey, including one that spends time in barrels that previously held bourbon. To imbue a sense of place, its Indigenous Gin uses locally harvested botanicals. Little Water’s vodka and rums are available throughout the state, along with a premixed old-fashioned cocktail featuring the distillery’s Whitecap whiskey, house-made orange and aromatic bitters, and simple syrup.—John Holl

807 Baltic Avenue, Unit B, 609-344-7867

Long Branch Distillery

Long Branch

This month marks one year since owner Mark Elia opened the doors at Long Branch Distillery. Under the Big Door Spirits label, the distillery offers a five-blend botanical gin, a pair of vodkas—one made with corn, one with wheat—as well as whiskey. Housed in a 100-year-old building, the distillery occupies 5,000 square feet. A seat at the tasting room’s marble bar offers a look at the operation’s automated stills. A hallway leads to a grand lounge with ample seating, adorned with antique decor; the space is available for private events. Visitors can sip custom cocktails while listening to live jazz music, offered on Fridays and Saturdays.—Shea Swenson

199 Westwood Avenue, 732-759-8321

Milk Street Distillery

Branchville

Brothers Mike and Gordon Geerhart worked construction for 16 years before transforming this 125-year-old industrial building into a distillery that opened in January 2017. All spirits are distilled from raw ingredients, including the standout Kanpeki vodka, made entirely with white rice. The duo crafts a solid white rum and gin, as well as rye whiskeys and bourbon. For their peach brandy—a staple in the Garden State in pre-Prohibition days—they peel Jersey peaches by hand. The labor-intensive process pays off. You can taste the spirits neat or in cocktails in the cozy tasting room, where the distillery’s friendly cats might greet you.—Shelby Vittek 

1 Milk Street, Building 1, 973-948-0178

Nauti Spirits Distillery

Cape May

Located less than two miles off Exit 0 on the Garden State Parkway, Nauti Spirits sits on a sprawling, 60-acre farm. In 2016, retired U.S. Navy commander Steven Miller opened the distillery in partnership with the farm’s owners, Corey and Dorey Bryan. Nauti’s signature vodka, distilled from sweet potatoes and corn grown on-site, gins and rums can be found on liquor store shelves across the state. But to buy the bottles, it’s worth traveling directly to the source, where enthusiastic staff mix concoctions in the bar-like tasting room that overlooks the crops.—Shelby Vittek 

916 Shunpike Road, 609-770-3381

Pine Tavern Distillery

Monroeville

When Bob Schmid moved his family to a 10-acre farm in Monroeville in 2005, he didn’t anticipate opening a distillery on the property. But years later, when his stepson, Bill Cox, voiced a desire to get into distilling as a hobby, the family went about it the legal way. Turning the horse barn into a distillery, they opened Pine Tavern in 2016. All spirits under the Muddy Run label are produced on-site, including the Honey White, a clear spirit distilled from corn and honey produced on the farm; and a blackberry-flavored brandy, made with blackberries from Mood’s Farm in Mullica Hill and local chambourcin wine. Bourbon and rye whiskey under the Fedwick’s New Salem Spirits label is distilled in Kentucky, then aged at Pine Tavern before bottling. Members of the family, whose home is within sight of the barn distillery, can be found manning the stills or mixing cocktails. Next to the rustic tasting room is a large, timber-frame building, where musicians regularly play on weekends. Francisco Capellan from Stone House Cigar Co. in Bridgeton hand rolls cigars every Friday.—Shelby Vittek

149A Pine Tavern Road, 856-358-1076

Recklesstown Farm Distillery

Columbus

It’s difficult to picture a more idyllic setting for a distillery in the Garden State. Recklesstown Farm Distillery is true to its name, located on a farm owned by the Probasco family, who have worked the land for generations. They craft spirits with corn, grain and potatoes grown on the farm. Vodka, gin, rum and moonshine are distilled on the property and available for sale in the tasting room. The ample space of the farm has also helped it endure over the past year, allowing for visitors to make online reservations and enjoy house-made cocktails while social distancing. Mixers and other ingredients for their cocktails are also grown on-site, giving each creation, as the family says, a true sense of “farm to glass.”—John Holl

2800 US-206, 609-784-8046

Silk City Distillers

Clifton

“Nothing has changed in 300 years,” says James Bednar, “except the equipment is shinier and has computer controls.” But since launching their operation in 2015, Bednar and his three partners have created a number of distinctive potions. They make maple syrup, then age one of their bourbons in the casks used for the syrup. Silk City’s bourbon adds wheat to the usual blend of corn, barley and rye for a sweeter note. In December, they released a 100-proof whiskey aged 4-1/2 years. This year they will release a “very nutty and caramelly” quinoa whiskey. The large tasting room is open, but at 25 percent occupancy is limited to 12 people.—Eric Levin

321 River Road, [email protected]

distilleries

From left: A classic daiquiri with rum, lime juice and simple syrup at Striped Lion Distilling; Erin and Kevin Wright make pot-still rums with organic molasses. Photos by Felicia Perretti

Striped Lion Distilling

Woodbury

Erin and Kevin Wright are proud rum fanatics. Since 2006, when the couple tasted a “revelatory” aged rum, they’ve amassed a personal collection of more than 300 bottles. When the Wrights decided to open a distillery, they chose to focus exclusively on the sugarcane-based spirit, which they make using molasses. “We don’t feel the need or desire to do more,” says Erin. Kevin, an IT expert, oversees the distillation process, while Erin, a pediatrician, is the tastemaker behind the lounge-like tasting room’s drink menu, which features classic and Caribbean-inspired cocktails. Opened just after Thanksgiving, Striped Lion is the newest distillery to join the state’s growing roster.—Shelby Vittek

740 North Broad Street, 888-998-0519

Skunktown Distillery

Flemington

In 2014, Paul Hyatt decided to turn his hobby into a career. “I’d already made my own beer and wine,” he says. “The next step was distilling.” In 2016, he opened Skunktown Distillery, getting its name from Sturgeonsville, where Hyatt lives, a Hunterdon County town known as Skunktown until 1827. Hyatt hand peels all the potatoes used to make his vodka, which serves as the base for the juniper-infused Golden Gin and tea-infused Rooibos Gin. For the Thatcher’s Rye Whiskey, he sources rye from Warren County. The most popular bottling is a fall-forward Apple Pie Moonshine, a mix of vodka and rum blended with apple juice, maple syrup, brown sugar and cinnamon.—Shelby Vittek

12 Minneakoning Road #110B, 908-824-7754

Sourland Mountain Spirits

Hopewell

Ray Disch, cofounder of Triumph Brewing, left beer behind to launch Sourland Mountain Spirits with his wife, Erica, in 2015. Their son, Sage, helps manage the distillery, located on an 8-acre farm it shares with Troon Brewing and Brick Farm Tavern. Sourland sources product as locally as possible, including malt and grain from second-generation farmers in Ringoes, and Jersey blueberries for a blueberry-honey flavored vodka. Head distiller Jeremy Myers crafts an array of vodka, bourbon and rum, but Disch says the distillery’s pride and joy is gin, especially the barrel-aged bottling, which he says tastes as if “gin and bourbon had a baby.” The rustic tasting room is small, but outdoor seating is spacious and scenic.—Shelby Vittek

130 Hopewell Rocky Hill Road, 609-333-8575

distilleries

The historic building that is home to Tadmore Distilling Co., bottom right, has two lounge areas, like the one where owners Steve and Natasha Vitale warm up by the fire. Natasha, top right, serves a bourbon on the rocks in Tadmore’s tasting room. Photos by Felicia Perretti

Tadmore Distilling Co.

Salem

Before it was home to a distillery, the 230-year-old building in downtown Salem was a private residence, Masonic lounge and business office. High school sweethearts Steve and Natasha Vitale had a more spirited vision for the historic property when they purchased it, opening Tadmore Distilling Co. in October 2019 with the goal of attracting more tourism to a struggling town. The distillery is nano-sized, with Steve, a chemical engineer, in charge of distilling rye- forward bourbon with grains sourced within 15 miles, as well as white and aged rums. Natasha, who works in marketing, welcomes guests in the tasting room on Saturdays, when you can get a behind-the-scenes tour for $5, followed by cocktails in one of the cozy lounges.—Shelby Vittek

90 West Broadway, 856-485-0750

Train Wreck Distillery

Mount Holly

In 2017, father-and-son duo David and Aaron Diamond opened this distillery in a refurbished train station in historic Mount Holly. Using a pot still, they make vodka, rum, gin, bourbon, and rye and single-malt whiskeys. Enjoy them in an array of classic and seasonal cocktails in the old-timey tasting room.—Shelby Vittek

25 Madison Avenue, 609-288-6300

COMING SOON:

3BR Distillery

Keyport

Brothers Aleksandr and Maksim Zhdanov found their inspiration for 3BR in the story of their late grandfather, Oleg, who bootlegged in the Soviet Union during the country’s prohibition days. The brothers are starting the distillery—which was awaiting its state license when this issue went to print—with three cofounders (all fellow Rutgers alumni). 3BR distills split peas to create vodka and gin. They’ll also be making a liquor unlike anything currently available Stateside, which Aleksandr describes as “flavorful, closer to a whiskey in terms of our production.” The tasting room, due to open this winter, features large windows with a view of the tall still as well as a 50-foot concrete bar spray-painted to resemble the Berlin Wall.—Shea Swenson

7 Main Street, 862-259-5991

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