Garden State Greats: A Guide to New Jersey-Made Spirits

Milk Street Distilling / Photo courtesy Milk Street Distilling
Milk Street Distilling / Photo courtesy Milk Street Distilling

Historically, New Jersey hasn’t had many homegrown distilleries, thanks to strict alcoholic beverage laws held over since Prohibition.

But in 2013, the state passed a law that created craft distillery licenses. Since then, the industry has blossomed. As of 2019, New Jersey was home to 30 distilleries, according to the American Craft Spirits Association, making everything from rice vodka to rum.

At least one of these distilleries pre-dates the boom: Laird & Company. The oldest distillery in the nation has been making applejack (a type of apple brandy) since the late 1600s, though it counts 1780 as the distillery’s official start date, when the first commercial transaction was recorded there.

“We’re pretty uniquely New Jersey,” says Lisa Laird Dunn, executive vice president of Laird & Company and the ninth generation involved in the family business. “We were here before it even was a state.”

Steeped in Brewing History, This Mountain State Has a Serious Spirits Scene

While the distillery once distilled local apples, extensive development across the state has made it increasingly difficult to source sufficient raw materials from Jersey orchards, Dunn notes. Laird’s now uses Virginia-grown apples in its products.

“It’s taken some of the garden away from the Garden State,” she acknowledges.

That said, New Jersey still is known for its apple crop, as well as blueberries, cranberries and corn, the latter a key ingredient for Bourbon and moonshine.

Another key export? “We always have that little bit of New Jersey attitude,” Dunn says. “We have a lot of history, a little attitude because of that, and that reflects in our products as well.”

Here are 10 notable distilleries located in New Jersey worth seeking out for your next pour.

Asbury Park bottles and still
Photos courtesy Asbury Park

Asbury Park Distilling: Located right near the boardwalk, this distillery, founded in 2017, makes a Double Barrel Bourbon. It’s matured in new oak, followed by a rest in barrels previously used to age its Barrel Finished Gin.

Claremont Distillery: This Fairfield-based distillery focuses on whiskey. But it was their earthy vodka, made from Jersey-grown potatoes, that earned Claremont a spot on Wine Enthusiast’s 2016 Top 100 Spirits list.

Jersey Artisan Distilling (JAD): When it debuted in 2013, JAD became the first distillery to open in New Jersey since Prohibition. Also located in Fairfield, they make Busted Barrel rum and James F.C. Hyde Original Sorgho Whiskey, made from sorghum, a grain usually associated with the South.

Laird & Company: The oldest distillery in the country specializes in applejack, a type of apple brandy enjoyed since America’s colonial era. The family-owned operation is based in Monmouth County, where farms still dot the region.

Lazy Eye Distillery: Opened in Wildwood in 2014, grape-based distillate is the main focus, including a flagship vodka. Raki (tsipouro) is produced as a tribute to the owners’ Greek heritage, and includes versions finished with anise or barrel-aged.

Stills and tanks at Milk Street Distilling
Photo courtesy Milk Street Distilling

Milk Street Distillery: In the Northwest corner of the state, this facility opened in 2017 on the site of what was once the Sussex County Distillery, destroyed by fire in 1948. They make a wide range of spirits, some with unusual grains, such as a Caraway Rye and rice-based Kanpeki Vodka.

Pine Tavern Distillery: New Jersey’s first farm distillery makes small-batch spirits, many featuring ingredients grown on site, such as Muddy Run Jersey Style Blackberry Brandy, named for the creek that runs through the back of the farm.

Skunktown Distillery: Located in Flemington, an area in Central Jersey perhaps best-known for outlet shopping, this distillery uses non-GMO fruits and vegetables to flavor Apple Pie Moonshine, Spicy Vodka and more.

Sourland Mountain Spirits: Founded in 2015, this Hopewell-based distillery is located on Double Brook Farm, and plays off the legacy of moonshiners and bootleggers once concealed by the surrounding countryside. Look for their barrel-finished Gin Reserve tinged with vanilla and spice.

Striped Lion DistilleryThe youngest distillery on this list, Striped Lion opened its doors in November 2020. This Black-owned business in Gloucester Country specializes in small-batch rum fermented and distilled on-site. The pot-distilled rum is also the base for infused Citrus and Cocoa Rums.

Published on January 11, 2021
Topics: Spirits