From 1919 to 1933, the United States constituted the “Prohibition” – a ban on the production, sale and transportation of all alcoholic beverages nationwide. Since the end of prohibition, New Jersey has been known to have some of the most strict liquor laws in the country. Even though state laws permitted breweries and wineries, it was much more difficult for distilleries to open in the Garden State. However, it wasn’t until 2013 that Governor Chris Christie signed legislation making a change to New Jersey’s distilling laws, thus paving the way for the state to issue its first distillery licenses in 94 years.
One of the newest distilleries to open its doors is Fairfield-based Claremont Distilled Spirits. Founded by New Jersey resident Tim Koether in 2014, the 7,000-square-foot facility has the capacity to produce 20,000 gallons of distilled spirits annually, including vodka, moonshine and whiskey.
Koether – who worked on Wall Street for 25 years and eventually became a hedge fund manager – decided to leave his job in 2012 and was looking to start his own business. “Because New Jersey changed the laws to promote craft distilling shortly after I left my job, I thought that maybe it would be a good area to get into,” he says.
Koether made trips to other distilleries to learn the process, conducted research and felt that the New Jersey market would be a prime area to open a business of the distilled nature.
“The more I looked into the New Jersey market, the more I realized that is has everything you want, especially in terms of producing craft liquors,” he says. “It has a dense and affluent population, and that population enjoys spirits well above the national average. Eight percent of all alcohol that is consumed in this country is consumed in New Jersey – only behind New York, California and Florida. And, considering that craft distilleries were just entering the market here, it seemed like a no brainer.”
Claremont prides itself on sourcing its ingredients from local companies and manufacturers. “We get the potatoes for our vodka, corn for our moonshine, blueberries and peaches for our flavored infused spirits, all from New Jersey,” he says. “Our labels and boxes are even manufactured less than a mile away from our facility.”
Currently, the company is focused on promoting its brand within the state. Its vodka and moonshine are currently in 100 retail locations through New Jersey, and Koether says that “reorder” business “is key” for the company’s growth.
“If you are selling a local product at retail,” Koether says, “anyone can get shelf space the first time. However, it has to be a quality product and it has to bring in the repeat customer at those locations to bring the product back a second time around. We started selling to retailers in October 2015. As of February, sales were up 300 percent since then. It has been a positive sign for us and we couldn’t be more excited.”