Monday, June 8, 2015
FAIRFIELD – New Jersey’s largest craft distillery will begin selling its products this month.
Currently just a three-man operation, Claremont Distilled Spirits will produce vodka, moonshine, and eventually whiskey. One of just a few hundred craft distilleries in the country, Claremont has the capability to produce 20,000 gallons annually, the maximum allowed in the state for a craft distillery.
The first product, Claremont Vodka, will hit shelves by the end of June, with Jersey Devil Moonshine quickly following by the 4th of July.
Founder and Chief Executive Officer Tim Koether said he will soon offer Jersey blueberry and Jersey cranberry infused vodkas. Since the vodkas are potato-based, the products are gluten free, he added.
“We want to use New Jersey as much as we possibly can, from soaking our infused vodkas in blueberries and cranberries, to the potatoes and corn.”
Koether and his head distiller Chris DeGasperis are excited to start making whiskey as well, but that process takes significantly longer to age, which is why they started with vodka and moonshine.
“We also thought about rum and gin, but we didn’t want to stretch ourselves too thin,” DeGasperis said. “Let’s just make a few things really well.”
Koether worked on Wall Street for 25 years, and was a hedge fund manager for another seven until 2012, when he decided to get into the craft spirits industry, entirely self-funded.
“I got tired of waking up at 4:30 a.m. and decided I wanted to make something tangible instead of making money out of air,” Koether said. “I wanted to make a business of my own, saw the tax laws change in New Jersey, and started looking into a distillery. Now I’m waking up at 3:30 a.m. but I love it.”
The name comes from the Claremont Estate in Bernardsville, where Koether lived for a year in a guest house.
“It was just a classic, classy name,” Koether said. He moved into the Commerce Road industrial building last fall, hiring DeGasperis at that time.
DeGasperis has previously worked at breweries and distilleries in Pennsylvania and New York before taking the job.
The next few months were spent building the distillery and tasting room, including installing electrical outlets and drains, acquiring the proper licensing, and ordering and installing the equipment, which took them to this month.
Sales manager Bill Brown began work in April. He believes New Jersey could soon see a craft spirits boom similar to the one experienced by craft breweries over the past 15 years, and Claremont will be at the forefront of it.
“At the moment there are no meaningful quantities of craft vodka in New Jersey,” Brown said. “We’ll be the first serving meaningful amounts. New Jersey is still an under-utilized state for alcohol, but what a market.”
Koether said New Jersey’s dense population and affluent communities made it an ideal location for a distillery, and Fairfield in particular is becoming a hotspot for craft alcohol, with Claremont joining the ranks of Jersey Artisan Distilling, Cricket Hill Brewing, and Magnify Brewing, all of which are located within a few miles of each other.
“Everyone here is very receptive to local craft. We want to use all of the New Jersey ingredients we can, and we’re selling our products only in New Jersey,” Koether said. “And coming from Wall Street, I was shocked to find out what a friendly, non-competitive industry it is. There’s a camaraderie I wasn’t expecting.”
Koether said Claremont will reduce its carbon footprint by recycling and reusing its water, and sending its spent mash to local farmers.
Vodka takes about 10 days to produce, and DeGasperis said Claremont can produce about 200 liters per batch. They plan to be in stores by the end of the month.
“I believe that people will buy a New Jersey product once just because it’s local,” Koether said. “But to bring them back again, it’s got to be good.”
Tours and samples at the Commerce Road distillery will begin in July.
“We love that people can come in and see the distillery,” Brown said, “Because it allows people to feel like they found this place and it’s theirs.”
Koether said Claremont products will retail for less than $25 for a 750 mL bottle, thanks to buying ingredients and machinery in large quantities to keep prices low.
“That way we make it affordable and make it good,” Koether said. “You can make a very, very good vodka and still sell it under $25.”