How This NJ Distillery Is Bringing Single Malt Whisky to the State

by Peter Candia
bellemara distillery

Bellemara Distillery is a single malt distillery in Hillsborough Township, NJ. The Central Jersey distillery is just one of a few in the entire country that’s sole focus is single malt spirits. Head Distiller and Co-Owner of Bellemara, Camden Winkelstein, obtained a Master of Science in Brewing and Distilling from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was there that he fell in love with single malt whisky and, ultimately, decided to bring it back with him to the States. 

Along with his wife Christina, the couple aimed to bring the magic of single malt whisky to New Jersey. The catch? Well, whisky takes a while to make. As is the practice in Scotland, Camden uses malted barley—and only malted barley—to make every spirit at Bellemara. And while he stored away hundreds of gallons of spirit in barrels that would eventually become whisky, he needed something to pay the bills in the meantime. 

In 2021, the duo opened their doors, but whisky was nowhere to be found on the menu because they simply didn’t have any ready. Instead, a neutral spirit akin to vodka and a gin were the two spirits that were offered. These spirits could be enjoyed neat or in an array of cocktails. Camden explained to me that at Bellemara, whether it was their single malt neutral spirit or an eventual whisky, the process is nearly identical up to a certain point and no matter the product, it was made with 100 percent malted barley from a single origin. The full spirit-making process at Bellemara Distillery—from grain to glass—can be read here

Last year, Bellemara Distillery added two more un-aged spirits to their catalog this past winter, which included a Tropical Gin and an Aquavit—an herbal Scandinavian spirit.

Bellemara Distillery Tropical Gin

Tropical Gin | Bellemara Distillery

Bellemara Distillery is one of a handful of New Jersey distilleries that makes everything in-house and the only NJ distillery focusing solely on single malt spirits. After a long wait, whisky is finally available to purchase at Bellemara Distillery and they have two varieties to choose from. Finally, whisky enthusiasts in New Jersey have a single malt to add to their collection. 

American Single Malt Whisky From NJ

Bottled at 91 proof, Bellemara Distillery’s signature whisky blends whisky from three separate casks, boasting an amber, honey-like color with aromas of oak, vanilla and citrus on the nose. It drinks somewhere between a Speyside Scotch and an American Bourbon, with upfront notes of caramel and vanilla before hitting you with malt and spiced honey on the back end. 

Think of this as Bellemara’s “House” whisky. Barrels of this single malt spirit were originally stored away in March 2022, making the whisky a year old. Camden explained to me that American single malts actually age faster than, say, a bourbon—which is made with corn. Malted barley has more flavor and thus requires less time to develop in the barrel. 

NJ single malt whisky

Single Malt Whisky | Bellemara Distillery

Because the whisky ages in charred oak barrels, the longer it sits can actually have a counterproductive effect by inhibiting too much oak, which ultimately muddies the sought-after malt flavor. But, American single malt distilling still comes with limited knowledge. Compared to Scotland, the scene for single malt whisky-making is extremely young and the industry is growing and learning every day. This is especially true for New Jersey, where single malt distilling is rare. 

Because the climate plays an enormous role when making spirits, Camden had to monitor the whisky every step of the way to ensure proper development. For example, in Scotland, proof can be lost during the aging process, while in Kentucky, proof can actually rise. However, in Jersey, the climate keeps proof levels consistent throughout the aging process.

The American Single Malt Whisky can be purchased now. Its versatility makes it a whisky that can be enjoyed on its own or in a variety of cocktails and mixed drinks. 

Single Cask Barrel Strength American Single Malt Whisky

For those who desire something on the higher end, Bellemara Distillery offers a single-cask whisky. Single malt spirit ages for a year in level four char barrels—the highest level of barrel char there is. Unlike the house whisky, there is no blending process and the spirit comes out of the barrel at 120.8 proof—or around 60% ABV—and unlike the whisky before it, is bottled at the same proof. 

The barrel-proof whisky exhibits a deep, caramel color with plenty of fruits, hay and vanilla on the nose. The taste is complex, brandishing flavors of toffee, char and plenty of malt. It continues to develop, and you’ll notice a profound spice that forms on the back end of your palate as you sip it.  

Distilling Single Malt Whisky Bellemara Distillery

Copper Stills | Bellemara Distillery

A quick maturation process creates what is an ideal sipping whisky with plenty of flavor and a high proof to show for it. This is not a whisky meant for cocktails, but instead one that is best enjoyed on its own. Additionally, bottling at cask strength gives more control to the consumer. You can enjoy it neat, on the rocks or with a splash of water—which is how i recommend it. 

Availability of the Single Cask Barrel Strength Whisky is incredibly limited—with only 70 bottles yielded from the barrel. Due to the limited supply, the Single Cask Series is only available for half-ounce tastings at this time and can not be purchased to bring home just yet. 

Drink Menu, Tastings and More

Of course, anyone who has visited Bellemara Distillery before will tell you the same: The cocktail program is equally as impressive as the whisky-making process. “Embracing the craft of craft distilling both in the distillery and behind the bar is our goal,” Camden told me, “we’ve adhered to that philosophy pretty well so far.” 

Along with the introduction of the brand’s first official whisky comes a list of inventive cocktails to show it off. 

It wouldn’t be a whisky-focused cocktail menu without a classic Old Fashioned. Bellemara’s version includes a pour of their signature whisky, demerara sugar syrup, house-made bitters and a twist of orange. This simple template elevates the subtleties of the whisky, making for a smooth, enjoyable drink that still packs a punch. 

If you’re looking for something a bit more complex, the Manhattan or Boulevardier might be more your style. The former involves whisky, house bitters and a house-made digestif—replacing the usual sweet vermouth. In the Boulevardier, whisky, digestif and a hibiscus aperitivo are stirred to create a nuanced drink that is slightly bitter, sweet and floral. 

Bellemara Distillery

Cocktails At the Bar | Bellemara Distillery

For lovers of citrus-forward cocktails, Bellemara Distillery offers a seriously vibrant Whisky Sour. Their single malt blended whisky is shaken along with lemon, simple syrup, bitters and aquafaba—an ingredient derived from chickpeas that offers a vegan alternative to the egg white that is normally found in sours. The drink is tart, but sweet with an incredibly frothy texture. 

Prefer to taste your whisky as is? Bellemara Distillery offers straight pours of both of their available whiskies. Guests can enjoy a half ounce pour of both the American Single Malt Whisky and the more luxurious Single Cask Barrel Strength Series. Two ounce pours are also available for the former.

A New Category of Whisky

New Jersey is in no way known for its single malt whisky, but Bellemara Distillery aims to change that. Camden and Christina Winkelstein’s dedication to grain-to-glass distilling is opening the door for the world of NJ whisky to flourish. “It’s a new category that I think is going to be very exciting,” Camden told me and I couldn’t agree more. 

Whether you’re a fan of sipping your whisky neat or on the rocks, in a cocktail or in a mixed drink, Bellemara Distillery aims to serve you whisky in whatever way you please. A mission that focuses on using local malt and making everything on premise ensures that when drinking at Bellemara, you are drinking something that has passed through the hands of experts every step of the way. 

About the Author/s

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Peter Candia is the Food + Drink Editor at New Jersey Digest. A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Peter found a passion for writing midway through school and never looked back. He is a former line cook, server and bartender at top-rated restaurants in the tri-state area. In addition to food, Peter enjoys politics, music, sports and anything New Jersey.

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