This article was originally published in our sister paper, U.S. 1 Newspaper.
What’s in a gin? Hendrick’s Gin includes, among other botanical ingredients, chamomile. Boodles Gin is made with nutmeg, Vor Icelandic gin with kelp. All recipes start with clean spirits and juniper berries; beyond that, distillers have latitude to create flavor profiles that are delicious and unique.
You can witness that process up close at Sourland Mountain Spirits, a small-batch distillery that opened recently at Double Brook Farm in Hopewell. Sourland Mountain Spirits, an independent operation started by Hopewell entrepreneur Ray Disch and a group of investors including communitynews.org co-publisher Jamie Griswold, has been bottling gin since early last year and more recently added vodka and rum to the portfolio.
On a recent Saturday I pulled into the farm’s stony drive, drove around the historic farmhouse that is the setting of Chef Greg Vassos’ New York Times-reviewed restaurant, Brick Farm Tavern, and parked in front of the converted barn housing Sourland Mountain Spirits. I also hoped to score some highly sought cans of beer from Troon Brewing Company, situated in a building adjacent to Sourland Mountain’s barn. Brewer Alex Helms has been making waves throughout the region with his extremely well regarded beer.
Sourland Mountain Spirits is open only on Saturdays. The distillery offers guided tours on the hour between 1 and 5 p.m. Tours cost $5 and visitors are asked to sign up in advance at sourlandmountainspirits.com.
The spotless distillery room is a steampunk wonderland, full of heavy, gleaming equipment imported from Hungary. Tours take between 30 and 45 minutes and offer a detailed, vessel-by-vessel explanation of the distilling process, which is slightly different depending on the spirit being produced.
I was drawn to the barrel-top display of the 12 botanicals that go into Sourland Mountain’s gin, including some whose flavors I know — rosemary, almond and orange peel — and some I do not, like angelica, orris root, and grains of paradise. Tour goers are invited to taste any of the ingredients to get a sense of the way their flavors contribute to the overall flavor.
On the day I took a tour there was also an array of four oak casks where, our guide explained, some batches of gin were being aged. Oak aging imparts some characteristics of the barrel into the flavor, and also changes its color from clear to a rich brown.
After the tour you are escorted over to the tavern, where you can sample for free any of the Sourland Mountain’s spirits and buy bottles to take home. Vodka is $27.99, gin $38.99, and rum $34.99 for 750 milliliters. As of this writing, 375-ml bottles of barrel-aged gin were also on sale in the bar for $24.99.
You can also enjoy lunch in the restaurant’s rustic bar, where Vassos and his team serve up a seasonally changing menu. When I visited the menu included Thistle Creek Devon Burger ($15), served on whole wheat brioche with cheddar foam; empanadas ($16), with ever changing ingredients (Argentine beef on the day of my visit); rillette, such as duck or lamb, ($12), veloute (such as broccoli and potato or butternut squash ($9); Cobb salad ($16), and steak frites ($24). Lamb, pork, and poultry is raised and slaughtered right there at Double Brook Farm.
Some cocktails are made with Sourland Mountain spirits. The No Rhyme, No Reason ($14), for example, is made with Sourland Mountain vodka, pear, orange liqueur, and club soda. The bar also serves the latest beer from Troon or the Referend Bier Blendery, also based in Hopewell, which specializes in spontaneously fermented beers.
As for those cans of Troon beer: I was fortunate to be able to score some on my visit. Troon’s delicious milk porters and hazy India pale ales in recent months have become extremely difficult to come by. When there is beer available for take-home consumption — in 32-ounce cans only — Helms announces the releases exclusively on Instagram, often selling out within an hour. Troon is closed except for can releases. Even if you miss out, the beer is always on tap at the tavern, which is open Wednesdays through Saturdays for lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Wednesdays through Sundays for dinner, 5 to 9:30 p.m.
This unusual trio of businesses is helping fulfill the vision of Robin and Jon McConaughy, owners of Double Brook Farm, who set out several years ago to transform their farmstead into a unique artisanal experience. They found willing collaborators in Vassos, Helms, and Disch.
Sourland Mountain Spirits, 130 Hopewell-Rocky Hill Road, Hopewell, 609-333-8575.
Brick Farm Tavern, 609-333-9200.