Still Life: A New Garden State Distillery

Jersey Artisan Distilling will operate under the first full distilling license issued in New Jersey since Prohibition.

Krista Haley and Brant Braue
Krista Haley, left, and Brant Braue tend their newly licensed still.
Photo by Michael Marmora.

New Jersey locavores will soon be able to add locally distilled spirits to their shopping lists. Operating under the first full distilling license issued by the state since before Prohibition, Jersey Artisan Distilling (JAD) has begun making its inaugural batches of rum in a former airplane assembly plant in Fairfield.

“It’s really exciting to be doing something so different and so new,” says JAD co-founder Krista Haley, an attorney from Morris Plains. She and business partner Brant Braue, a former engineer from North Caldwell, hope to distribute statewide this spring. They plan to follow their craft rums with gin, vodka, whiskey and bourbon.

More than 350 small-batch distilleries have been launched around the nation in the past five years—a spirited manifestation of the locavore movement. Yet New Jersey, the state that granted the nation’s first distilling license (to Scobeyville’s Laird & Co. in 1780), has lagged in modernizing its antiquated distilling laws. (Laird continues to bottle its famous Applejack in Scobeyville, but it is distilled in Virginia.)

While the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control has given Haley and Braue its blessing to proceed with their operation, at press time lawmakers in Trenton were still debating a bill that would allow on-site tastings and sales and reduce annual licensing fees for distillers from $12,500 to less than $1,000. Supporters say the law would create jobs, spur culinary tourism and give New Jersey parity with neighboring states that have updated their distilling codes. The state’s restaurant and wine-and-spirits trade associations oppose the legislation, fearing it would devalue their own pricey licenses.

Several would-be distillers, including the owner of Milford’s Alba Vineyards and the former mayor of Princeton Township, are awaiting the bill’s fate before proceeding with their plans. South Philadelphia real estate professional James Yoakum says he plans to open Cooper River Distillers in downtown Camden regardless—although he has yet to receive a license.

Likewise, Haley and Braue, who creates the recipes, pushed forward. They’ve invested almost $250,000 and spent 18 months navigating the labyrinth of distillery permitting. “We immediately saw the potential for this,” says Haley. “And I think it will exceed our expectations.”

In keeping with locavore tenets, JAD will use Jersey sweet corn as the base for its whiskey mash and Jersey fruits and vegetables in its flavored vodkas. “We aren’t doing anything different,” says Braue. “We’re just doing it better.”

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