Calling all my fellow craft cocktail aficionados (and local history buffs, too)! There are some pretty exciting things happening on the bar and mixology scenes right here in NJ. Despite being home to the very first license to make liquor in the United States way back in 1780 (with over 350 producers popping up in NJ by the mid 19th century); liquor production in NJ had been outlawed since Prohibition. That is, until a recent law—in 2013(!)—brought distilling back to the Garden State.
Entrepreneurs Bob Hagemann of Corgi Spirits and Andy Karas and Zack Ohebshalom of Asbury Park Distilling each saw a fantastic opportunity: to create exciting local brands of spirits for New Jerseyans, while also providing a fun new experience for cocktail lovers. They not only make their own small-batch, hand-crafted liquors to sell wholesale, but also opened super-fun new cocktail spots in two of the hottest towns in the state: Jersey City and Asbury Park. As a local chef and cocktail recipe developer who’s fascinated by mixology and all things craft cocktails, I couldn’t wait to see some of the creative things that both places were doing with their house-made spirits and cocktail programs.
Asbury Distilling Company
Ohebshalom has over 10 years of experience in the wine and spirits industry and rather than choosing a location zoned for industrial use, which is the norm for distilleries, he made the bold choice to open in booming downtown Asbury Park just steps from Cookman Avenue. Bringing in master distiller Bill Tambussi, they use a gorgeous custom still from Germany’s oldest and most sought after fabricator, since 1869. Theirs is a hybrid model, with both pot and column, allowing them to produce all their spirits in one machine.
The distillery opened in 2017 with just vodka and gin being produced, and recently added bourbon and a uniquely flavored gin, aged in bourbon barrels. The highly creative seasonal cocktails are made from scratch with everything from the alcohol, bitters, amaros, juices, syrups, tonics, tinctures and accompaniments, all produced in house by their incredibly talented and creative bar staff. On recent visits their cleverly named cocktails (such as Dude, You’re Getting a Dill) featured exotic flavors like smoked honey, rooibos tea, Calabrian chili oil, cashew milk horchata, raspberry husk, and local Asbury Volan Cafe coffee brew.
The intent is to be an extension of the thriving Asbury Park arts and culture scene; even their logo was designed by local muralist Pork Chop. People magazine was right in shouting them out as “one of the top reasons to come to AP.” Open from Thursday to Sunday with a bright and beautiful retro-vibe bar, lively crowd, and charming bartenders, Asbury Distilling Company is a must visit.
The only distillery in bustling Hudson County, Corgi Spirits was opened by Jersey City resident Bob Hagemann in 2018 in the rapidly growing Bergen-Lafayette neighborhood. Hagemann was looking to channel his creative passion for delicious drinks and cooking into a local project, with distilling as the perfect blend of art and science. Inspired by his love of dogs and all things Great Britain, Corgi Spirits was born! (Fun fact: The corgi is the dog of the royal family.) Corgi has the feel of an old English hunting club lodge, with Victorian-inspired art, velvet couches, and a lovely private-events room with a fireplace. Even their cocktail names are a nod to British culture, from the Killer Queen to the Clockwork Orange.
The Corgi team is comprised of talented locals who have all been part of Jersey City’s growth and have a major focus on giving back to the community. They donate a portion of profits to animal rescue groups in Jersey City, as well as a number of other nonprofits including Hudson Pride Center, the Community FoodBank of NJ, the JC refugee office, and the Jersey City Parks Coalition.
It’s the products that really set Corgi apart. They make and sell both vodka and gin, including the only Earl Grey gin on the market, which Hagemann says surprises people who thought they didn’t like gin. They also produce other creative seasonal flavors of gin like Very Merry, with the warm flavors of figgy pudding stilled with dried fruit and warming spices; Bee Blossom, with honey and delicate floral notes; Garden Party, with cucumber, citrus, and herbs. Open Thursday to Sunday, Corgi Spirits boasts a huge pet-friendly outdoor area that’s very popular for happy hour. You’ll also find a gorgeously decorated and cozy lounge—the perfect spot to rent for private parties.
Be on the lookout for both Asbury Distilling Company and Corgi Spirits at liquor stores and bars near you!
Asbury Park Distilling
527 Lake Avenue
Asbury Park, NJ
1 Distillery Drive
Jersey City, NJ
150 Pacific Avenue
Jersey City, NJ