Over 35 million liters of alcohol are loved globally annually, however few folks really perceive the laborious work and dedication that’s required for that spirit to finish up in your glass. It begins at a farm the place a grain is grown, the grain is then processed by maltsters and millers earlier than lastly making its strategy to a distiller. From the distiller, it goes to distribution, then to bars and eating places, and at last into your glass. Many gloss over simply how a lot land the bottle chances are you’ll take pleasure in on a weekend should cowl earlier than making its strategy to you.
Many producers attempt to shorten this journey by shopping for pre-distilled spirits and components after which repackaging them as “craft,” “handmade,” or “native,” when the precise alcohol within the bottle is something however. Nevertheless, at one distillery in Central New Jersey, all the distilling work is finished proper there on premises. The subsequent time you enjoy an expertly crafted drink within the second-floor lounge at Bellemara Distillery in Hillsborough Township, NJ, you possibly can drink with a brand new outlook, figuring out that the very spirit you might be having fun with was crafted 15 toes away from you in a course of often known as grain to glass distilling. Head distiller and co-owner, Camden Winkelstein, exemplifies craftsmanship in its rawest kind by turning malted barley into a few of the most interesting single malt spirits that one might ask for.
Neighbors with Flounder Brewing Co., the 2 companies have adjoining outside patio areas which can be each glossy, and cozy. This presents a spread that many distilleries don’t have, and a chance to strive a number of totally different merchandise from two famend establishments. Possibly you wish to drink a cocktail at Bellemara, and take a six-pack dwelling from Flounder Brewing, otherwise you may wish to take pleasure in a beer on the brewery patio, after which take one thing from Bellemara dwelling. Excursions, tastings and lessons are even out there for visitors who wish to transcend simply having fun with a drink. The choices are huge, and the proximity offers a singular high quality that many distilleries and breweries lack.
Like several success story, there was an extended journey earlier than touchdown there.
Whereas it could look like second nature, Winkelstein didn’t at all times make liquor. He spent seven years as a U.S. Navy Submarine Officer earlier than finally leaving to seek out his ardour and switch it right into a profession. From there, he took the issues he cared about most and mixed them into one: engineering and craft spirits and brewing.
Initially, Winkelstein considered going the brewery route. “I used to be attempting to determine what to do with my life. I knew I wished to start out a enterprise—for some time, I used to be interested by possibly opening a brewery, however after I regarded for breweries to study in, nowhere was hiring,” Winkelstein instructed me, “I assumed to myself; what’s the subsequent smartest thing? I can go and get educated,” he continued.
A love for Scotch whisky led him to Scotland the place he obtained a Grasp of Science in Brewing and Distilling from Heriot-Watt College in Edinburgh, which was the one English-speaking Masters diploma out there in brewing and distilling science on the time. Returning dwelling to the U.S., Winkelstein felt able to dive headfirst into his personal enterprise. The main target? None aside from single malt spirits.
He first obtained his toes moist working with different distilleries all through the state, all whereas honing his enterprise mannequin into what you’ll discover immediately when strolling into Bellemara. Winkelstein and his spouse, Christina Lee, traveled around the globe tasting a whole lot of whiskies earlier than deciding on a mode that they agreed suited their imaginative and prescient finest. On the tail finish of 2021, Winkelstein and Lee opened their doorways after years of preparation. And when strolling by way of these doorways, that enterprise mannequin, and Winkelstein’s and Lee’s picture, is placed on full show proper earlier than your eyes.
The start of that picture begins at a farm, with a grain. Winkelstein went on to elucidate to me how the method of constructing a single malt spirit begins. “We’re a single malt distillery, so we’re making every thing from malted barley. Barley is a grain, and similar to some other grain, it’s grown in a discipline by a farmer. It’s then put by way of a malting course of the place it will get soaked in water, germinates, after which releases an enzyme. From there, it’s dried out—permitting for max shelf-life. The product you might be left with is called malted barley.
The malted barley is what initially arrives on the distillery, and it’s the canvas during which Winkelstein and his workforce work upon. From there, 275-pound batches of the grain go into a stainless-steel mash tank, the place it’s blended with sizzling water to reactivate the enzymes which had been launched in the course of the malting course of. This step is likely one of the most important to the ultimate product. Because the enzymes are launched from the grain, they convert the starch into sugar, which is crucial to creating alcohol. “We begin with oatmeal, and we flip it into sugary oatmeal,” Winkelstein joked.
From there, the liquid is separated from the “oatmeal” and cooled down. And whereas the grain husk that’s left behind has no position within the course of any longer, it may possibly nonetheless be repurposed as animal feed. So, Bellemara sends it out to native farms, the place it’s consumed by cattle and different livestock.
Because the strained liquid is cooled, yeast is added, which then converts the sugar into alcohol. This liquid is fermented for 4 days, and is called a wash. The wash you’re left with sits at round six-and-a-half p.c alcohol by quantity.
So far, the precise distillation course of has but to even start. However that each one modifications with this subsequent step. The liquid is added to copper stills, heated up, and alcohol is boiled off to be collected. This does two issues to the product: it reduces the quantity of the liquid, and it concentrates the alcohol share, elevating the extent all the best way as much as round 32 p.c. What you might be left with after this primary distillation is one thing often known as low wines.
The aforementioned stills are one of many first issues that catch your eye when strolling into Bellemara. These will not be straightforward to return by, and Winkelstein didn’t take the straightforward method out in acquiring them. The 2 stills had been customized by Winkelstein himself and made in Italy particularly for Bellemara. They tower over you with their copper end, letting you realize what you’re about to drink goes to be particular. How might it not be? It was made proper there in entrance of you, all throughout the picture of a real craftsman.
That’s the place Winkelstein’s background in engineering gave him a leg up when getting into the world of distillation. Whereas many spirit makers would analysis and order a nonetheless that works finest for his or her product, Winkelstein discovered that designing it himself can be much more useful. That method, he might management each facet of one of the crucial vital instruments on the distillery. “When doing analysis, I regarded on the stills used to make whiskies that I beloved to drink, and took a some inspiration from every,” Winkelstein admitted. He put a pencil to paper, and designed each final inch of every of Bellemara’s copper stills, making certain that the merchandise they might be making had been really of their picture—in each sense of the phrase.
The second distillation then takes place, a course of often known as a spirit run. The liquid is once more heated, bumping the alcohol share all the best way as much as over 80 p.c. “This spirit run is the place we separate the heads, hearts, and tails. The heads of our run are stuff like methanol; actually excessive within the mistaken sort of alcohol…It is going to make you go blind. We throw that out,” Winkelstein instructed me. “The hearts of the run are what we wish to accumulate. Ethanol… alcohol that tastes good.”
So, the hearts are collected over the course of round 4 hours, at which level, the distiller will select when to chop off the gathering as taste modifications and alcohol content material decreases. At Bellemara, the again two-thirds of the run is what they might take into account the tails—this may be recycled for future spirit runs.
For all the merchandise at Bellemara, these starting steps stay the identical. The method then modifications relying on what’s being made. For his or her Single Malt Spirit, they proof the liquid all the way down to 60 p.c alcohol, carbon filter it to take the uncooked edge off of the palate, after which the ABV is lowered as soon as extra to 40 p.c earlier than being bottled.
Bellemara’s Single Malt Spirit is evident and impartial in taste, all whereas retaining a complexity across the edge that’s typically missed completely throughout the class. Whereas it’s their reply to a vodka, Bellemara’s Single Malt Spirit to me is rather more nice to drink than your customary vodka, and the terroir of the malted barley makes for a impartial spirit that’s terribly fascinating.
The identical spirit may be become an array of merchandise. Winkelstein and his workforce distill the liquor a 3rd time with added flavors corresponding to juniper and orange peel, creating Bellemara’s signature gin. The frivolously floral notes and sturdy citrus taste makes for a gin that’s each pleasant when sipped neat, or a exceptional base on which a cocktail may be constructed.
Winkelstein is a whisky-maker at coronary heart, although. And whereas his American Single Malt Whisky remains to be being aged in new charred American Oak barrels, he’s assured within the high quality that may come out of the barrel after two to 4 years of getting old. Just like the Single Malt Spirit, that is proofed all the way down to round 60 p.c alcohol, earlier than being added to barrels to age.
Bellemara amplifies the flexibility of a superb base spirit by showcasing how seamlessly it may be become three uniquely distinct merchandise. A mixture of newcomers and regulars take pleasure in drinks at Bellemara every day, however the dedication to creating one thing particular isn’t misplaced on critics both. The San Francisco World Spirits Competitors awarded a silver medal to the Bellemara Gin, and a gold medal to the Bellemara Single Malt Spirit this 12 months. Regulars on the distillery already acknowledge the greatness that Bellemara produces each single day, however with prestigious awards below their belt now, Winkelstein and the whole workforce’s adroitness is being applauded nationwide.
What’s so spectacular at Bellemara Distillery is how seamlessly this tough work transfers over to their bar program. Due to legal guidelines and rules within the state of New Jersey, distilleries will not be allowed to hold any alcoholic product that isn’t their very own. This makes creating drinks that decision for added, particular merchandise moderately tough.
That’s the place tasting room supervisor and cocktail curator, Russell Aagenes, comes into the image. Utilizing their single malt spirit, Aagenes and Winkelstein have developed two aperitifs—a dry kind of alcohol often served earlier than a meal. Their bitter hibiscus aperitif works completely as a substitute on your typical bitter pink spirit that you simply may discover in a spritz or a Negroni. The dry aperitif is used of their home martini, changing dry vermouth completely.
That is certainly an impediment, however it’s one which Bellemara not solely conquers, however makes use of to their benefit. There’s really a cocktail for everyone on their listing, and in case you can’t discover one that’s precisely to your liking, a construct your individual gin and tonic is out there permitting the visitor to customise each facet of their beverage, from herbs and fruit to syrups and spices. That is simply one other contact that units Bellemara Distillery aside from the remaining.
When requested concerning the philosophy behind his enterprise, Winkelstein instructed me that making every thing on premises was of the utmost significance to him when opening Bellemara. “What’s the purpose of getting a craft distillery in case you’re simply shopping for an industrial bourbon and rebottling it along with your identify on it?” (A follow that Winkelstein went on to elucidate is sadly widespread on this planet of distilleries.) “I gained’t have the ability to promote whisky for a couple of years as a result of it must age, however that’s positive by me if it means I’m making all of it myself,” he continued.
Bellemara is many issues. It’s a distillery, it’s a bar, and it’s a spot to hang around; however, above all, it’s a end result of expertise and talent that’s placed on show for our enjoyment. Each workforce member works towards the identical objective, and that objective is to make one thing that individuals are going to like. The identify Bellemara, roughly translating to “great thing about the ocean,” is the proper description of their craftsmanship. Whisky and spirits are advanced and alter over time, just like the ocean with its tides. That ebb and circulate, as Winkelstein put it, has grow to be an inspiration to push out one thing exceptional each day. Whether or not you wish to savor an expertly crafted drink on the bar, or are simply searching for a comfortable place to hang around like of their upstairs lounge, the actual fact stays that Bellemara Distillery affords a brand new perspective on craft spirits.