Historically, there are not many national distilleries in New Jersey, thanks to the strict alcohol laws introduced since the ban.
But in 2013, the state passed a law that created permits for artisanal distilleries. Since then, the industry has flourished. In 2019 there were 30 distilleries in New Jersey producing everything from rice vodka to rum, according to the American Craft Liquor Association.
At least one of those distilleries before the boom: Laird & Company. It is the oldest distillery in the country and has been producing wine since the end of the 16th century. Applejack (a kind of apple brandy) was made in the 19th century, although the official starting date is 1780, when the first commercial operation was registered.
We’re quite unique in New Jersey, says Lisa Laird Dunn, executive vice president of Laird & Company and the ninth generation to run the family business. We were here before this state existed.
While the distillery once distilled local apples, the significant development in the state makes it increasingly difficult to obtain sufficient raw materials from Jersey’s orchards, Dunn notes. Laird’s now using Virginia apples in his products.
She took a piece of Garden State, she admits.
However, New Jersey is still known for its apple cultivation and for its blueberries, cranberries and corn, which are an important ingredient for bourbon and contraband alcohol.
Another important export? We still have that attitude about New Jersey, Dunn said. We have a lot of history, part of that attitude, and it is reflected in our products.
Here are 10 remarkable New Jersey distilleries that are worth checking out for your next drink.
picture courtesy of Asbury Park
Asbury Park Distill: This 2017 distillery is located directly on the promenade and produces double barrel bourbon. It was aged in new oak and then in barrels previously used for maturing gin in casks.
Claremont Distillery: This Fairfield distillery specializes in whiskey. But it was their earthy vodka, made from potatoes grown in Jersey, that earned Claremont a place on the Top 100 list of 2016 spirits.
Jersey Craft Distilling (JAD): At its opening in 2013, JAD was the first distillery to open in New Jersey since the ban. Also based in Fairfield, they produce Busted Barrel Rum and James F.C. Hyde Original Sorghum Whiskey, made from sorghum, a cereal often associated with the southern states.
Laird & Company: The oldest distillery in the country specializes in the production of Applejack, a type of apple brandy that has been appreciated in America since colonial times. The family business is based in Monmouth County, where there are still many farms.
Lazy Eyed Distillery: The company opens in 2014 in Wildwood and focuses on grape-based distillates, including the flagship vodka. Raki (Tsipouro) was made in homage to the Greek heritage of its owners and contains versions enriched with anise or cannons.
Photo courtesy of the Melkstraat Distillatie.
The distillery in the rue du Lait: In the northwestern part of the state, this facility opened in 2017 on the site of the former Sussex County Distillery, which was destroyed by fire in 1948. They make a wide range of spirits, some with unusual grains, such as cumin and rye, and Kanpekki Rice Vodka.
Pine Tavern: New Jersey’s first distillery produces spirits in small quantities, many of which contain locally grown ingredients, such as Muddy Run Jersey style blackberry brandy, named after the stream that runs through the back of the farm.
Skunktown Fever: This distillery is located in Flemington, a district in the center of Jersey, perhaps more famous for its factory shops. It uses non-GMO fruits and vegetables to flavor Moonshine apple pie, spicy vodka and more.
The Spirits of the Grey Mountain Spirits: Founded in 2015, the Hopewell distillery is located on Double Brook’s farm and reproduces the heritage of the moonlighters and smugglers who used to be hidden. Find their gin reserve in vanilla and herb barrels.
The stripes from Lion’s Liquor Factory: The last spirit company on this list, Striped Lion, opened in November 2020. This black company from Gloucester specialises in small quantities of rum, fermented and distilled locally. Pot distilled rum is also the basis of rum infusions with citrus fruits and cocoa.
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