Is Prohibition Finally Ending in New Jersey…80 Years Later?
News broke this week that New Jersey has issued its first new Distillery License since the end of Prohibition, nearly 80 years ago. Given that Prohibition started in 1920, and no license were issued during that time, this would have to be the first license issued by the Great State of New Jersey in over 90 years. Fairfield based Jersey Artisan Distilling was the lucky recipient and plans to produce a full spectrum of spirits, including rum, gin, vodka, bourbon and whiskey. My reaction? It’s about friggin’ time!!!
As I recently wrote, it appears that just about every state in the union has been enjoying the numerous benefits of the craft spirits boom, which include not only more consumer choice but also benefits to the local economy as the craft distillers need to buy high quality, often locally sourced, raw materials, hire employees to help run the business, and of course pay the related taxes. The notable exception was New Jersey which, for nearly 100 years, as had one, and only one, licensed distillery…Laird & Company. Laird’s claim to fame is to be the oldest licensed distillery in the country and being the country’s only remaining producer of Applejack.
Given New Jersey’s history in this category, I couldn’t help but re-read at least a few times the New Jersey ABC Director’s comments related to this license as listed in the New Jersey Newsroom story, stating that the issuance of this license is “further proof that the growing craft liquor manufacturing industry has a home in New Jersey.” Does issuing a single license in over 90 years really qualify New Jersey as a “home”? And the quote “We are excited by the growth of the locally-influenced, craft alcoholic beverage businesses that are expanding in New Jersey.” is also interesting. Why does he use the plural term “businesses”? There is only one licensed craft spirits business in New Jersey and, since they were only issued a license this week, I doubt they have yet produced and sold (at least legally) a single bottle of product.
To the State’s credit, there has been a bill introduced in the New Jersey Assembly to provide for a cheaper “Craft Distilling” license, but that license is so poorly crafted that I don’t really see it having a material impact. The fatal flaw is that the license requires that at least 51% of the raw materials come from within New Jersey. While New Jersey produces plenty of corn, so producing Bourbon would not be an issue, the state is not really known for its wheat, rye, barley, or potato production and it does not produce a single stick of sugar cane. So making rum would be completely out of the question and producing a full range of Whiskey, Rye, or Vodka would be difficult. I think that pretty much eliminates most of the most popular craft spirits these days. I pointed this issue out to a staff member of the bill’s sponsor, but haven’t received much of a response.
My old Statistics Professor, Professor McCardle, warned us that “a single observation does not a trend make”, so I’m a bit hesitant to get too excited about this long overdue development. However, Jersey Artisan Distilling is not the only business that is trying to bring New Jersey out of the dark ages. Cooper River Distillers has been trying for years to get a distilling license. If that comes through in the near future, then maybe this really is a trend and New Jersey can legitimately start callkng itself a “home” to craft distilling.