In New Jersey, strict liquor laws make it so that distilleries can only serve alcohol that they actually make. So, unlike a traditional bar, which stocks hundreds of different bottles, bitters and the like, a distillery can only stock what they themselves produce. This creates a unique challenge for distilleries looking to employ a legitimate cocktail list—one that goes beyond the easy-to-do cookie-cutter cocktails. At Bellemara Distillery in Hillsborough Township, NJ, they are putting out a truly exceptional cocktail list, and every drop of alcohol on it—from the whisky to the bitters—is made in-house.
When Bellemara Distillery opened nearly two years ago, they served two house-made spirits: The Single Malt Spirit and a Single Malt Gin. Because their flagship whisky was still aging, Bellemara was limited to clear liquors for some time. These limitations—combined with the fact that their bar could only stock house-made alcohol—meant that a different direction would have to be taken. Bellemara began developing a unique cocktail list. Rather than wait until whisky is ready, or worse, bottle a whisky that isn’t theirs (something many “craft distilleries” do), Bellemara decided to peel back the curtain and show people what it means to be a true, from-scratch distillery.
Eventually, more products came along, including a tropical gin infused with mango, aquavit, single malt whisky, cask strength whisky, aperitivo, tinctures and more. And though final products might differ, every single drop of alcohol in the building derives from their base, single malt spirit—made from 100 percent malted barley.
“Every drop of alcohol came from our stills. Even down to the vanilla extract,” says Head Distiller and owner Camden Winkelstein, who has a Master of Science in Brewing and Distilling from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. This is an impressive dedication to the rules, but it is also something that the Bellemara team just feels natural doing at this point. Syrups, botanicals, tinctures and more are all made in-house too—Bellemara Distillery takes no shortcuts.
Along with being down-right impressive, this scenario lends a distinct, barley flavor to Bellemara products that they utilize to their fullest ability. Winkelstein describes these limitations as Bellemara’s biggest advantage. “Some restrictions breed creativity,” he tells me. This is abundantly clear on Bellemara’s cocktail list, which features the likes of several creative cocktails, including the current, fall-centric apple whisky sour. The seasonal offering utilizes Bellemara’s house-distilled single malt whisky, green apple syrup, honey and lemon. A full cocktail and green apple syrup recipe will be listed below.
Fall and Winter at Bellemara
Additionally, guests can sip on festive drinks like the cranberry mule for fall and winter, which features Bellemara’s single malt gin as the base along with cranberry, lime, ginger and even house-made club soda. Or, stick to the classics with one of Bellemara’s tastings, highlighting several of the NJ distilleries’ house-made spirits.
Speaking of the winter, if you’re someone who embraces the festivities of the holiday season, then Bellemara Distillery is a must-visit. Beyond the timely drinks, the distillery features an outdoor igloo experience. Enjoy all of the luxuries of the inside bar, but in a festive atmosphere, with comfortable seating and a cozy vibe. The igloo can seat six adults, has a small heater, and a Bluetooth speaker so you can curate a totally custom experience.
The igloo can be reserved for two-hour windows at $50. Reservations can be made here.
Bellemara is also debuting a couple of new products this winter, both barrel-aged takes on some of their other staple spirits. The barrel-aged tropical gin has the same fruit-forward notes of the normal tropical gin, but with the added subtleties of oak, caramel and vanilla. On the other hand, the barrel-aged aquavit is anise-forward, with hints of oak and malt on the back end. Each bottle is aged in freshly-harvested barrels from Bellemara’s whisky production—meaning they are infused with many of the same complexities as Bellemara’s flagship whisky.
Whether you are celebrating or just stopping in for a quick drink, Bellemara Distillery should be at the top of your list of NJ bars. The distillery has proved time and time again that NJ liquor law restrictions are no match for their expert business model, which focuses on taking those limitations and turning them into a successful formula.
Every drop of liquor at Bellemara Distillery, from the whisky to the liqueurs, bitters, and tinctures, is made in-house. For the Bellemara team, that’s been one of the most rewarding parts of developing the cocktail program into what it is today: One of the best that NJ has to offer.
“That’s the part I really enjoy. Finding creative ways to adapt old recipes to our new process,” says Winkelstein.
Fall Cocktail Recipes – Bellemara Distillery
If you are someone who loves to bartend at home, Bellemara has provided us with some seasonal recipes utilizing some of their expert products and a recipe for a useful, fall-centric syrup.
Bellemara Apple Whisky Sour
- 1 oz Green Apple Syrup (recipe below)
- 0.5 oz Honey
- 0.75 oz Lemon Juice
- 2 oz Bellemara American Single Malt Whisky
- In a shaker tin, combine all ingredients and shake vigorously for about 15 seconds.
- Strain into rocks glass and top with ice.
- Garnish with an apple slice
Bellemara Green Appletini
- 1.5 oz Green Apple Syrup (recipe below)
- 0.25 oz Lemon Juice
- 0.25 oz Lime Juice
- 2 oz Bellemara Single Malt Spirit
- In a shaker tin, combine all ingredients and shake for about 15 seconds.
- Strain into small, chilled coupe glass.
- Garnish with an apple slice.
Green Apple Syrup
- Granny Smith Apples
- White sugar
- Citric Acid
- Cut and juice 6 Granny Smith Apples
- Strain the juice and weigh.
- Add equal weight sugar.
- Add 4% of the original juice weight of citric acid (100 grams of juice would require 4 grams of citric acid)
- Whisk until all solids are dissolved.
- Syrup lasts up to two weeks in the fridge or can be frozen for longer storage.
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About the Author/s
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.