By Brenda Flanagan
Get no kick from champagne? Try 80-proof rum, bottled in Fairfield at the first Jersey distillery since prohibition.
“End of prohibition in New Jersey since 1933. Eighty years it took and we think it was worth the wait,” Krista Haley said.
Haley co-owns and operates Jersey Artisan Distilling with Brant Braue. He’s an engineer. She’s a lawyer. Neither knew diddly about making rum, but they took a shot, so to speak.
“If you woke up tomorrow and could do what you wanted to do, not what you had to do, what would you do?” asked Braue.
Make rum, Braue says, referring to New Jersey’s rum-soaked history.
“There used to be 60 to 75 rum running boats just off the coast [of New Jersey],” Braue said.
Rum-runners evaded revenuers. Jersey Artisan faced different obstacles.
“We had to find a landlord who would allow us make rum. We had to figure out how to actually make rum,” Haley said.
Months of trial and error with Louisiana molasses produced two different rums — the silver ages briefly in metal tanks, while the dark rum spends a few months in oak barrels. The partners admit some anxiety.
“A little scary, yeah. There are nights when I don’t sleep or I wake up screaming in the middle of the night screaming, ‘Oh god, what have I done?'” Haley explained.
Starting a distillery from scratch is not cheap. The stills cost $10,000 each. And to break even, they’ll have to sell a lot of silver rum at $25 a bottle.
“It’s actually quite expensive. Just applying for the license was $12,500,” Haley said.
All told, they’re $300,000 in the hole. But they’re filling bottles and filling their first order — 1,000 cases, six bottles per case. Friends volunteered to help. Jersey Artisan’s got no paid staff.
Despite steep start-up costs, one other distillery’s struggling to open its doors — Cooper River in Camden. But they’re months away from marketing.
Jersey Artisan’s first batch hits store shelves mid-August. It’s called Busted Barrel.
“Thinking of the images from prohibition of the revenuers breaking the barrels and busting them open. We just loved the name,” said Haley.
And they hope customers love their rum. At least one rum expert does.
“This is made from molasses but it has that sugar cane flavor that really speaks to me,” said rum taste expert Warren Bobrow.
To Braue and Haley, it says revenue.