Located in the seaside city’s growing downtown, Asbury Park Distilling Co. is gaining praise on the Jersey Shore for its production of impressive handcrafted spirits and specialty artisanal cocktails, all made in house with locally sourced ingredients.
Tucked among the art galleries, boutique shopping, and eclectic restaurants of a commercial downtown, Asbury Park Distilling Co. is making a name for itself as the first distillery to open in New Jersey’s Monmouth County since Prohibition. Using only locally sourced grains and agriculture, the distillery has just recently added a Double Barrel Bourbon Whiskey to its line-up of corn-based Vodka, Gin, and Barrel Finished Gin.
With only a few years in operation, this relative newcomer to the craft spirits scene is one of a wave of distilleries that have opened since state laws governing distilling changed in 2013. Tastings and artisanal cocktails are served on site in full view of their beautiful Carl Artisan Still, and bottles can be purchased both at the distillery and in a growing number of liquor stores across the state. With the enthusiastic support of the notoriously diverse and creative community behind them, the biggest challenge facing Asbury Park Distilling is keeping up with demand while still holding fast to their high standards of quality.
I have a great love for the shoreside town of Asbury Park and its unique history – my husband and I were even married right off the boardwalk in view of the recently rejuvenated Convention Hall. As a born and bred Jersey Girl, I knew I had to see the Tasting Room of Asbury Park Distilling for myself.
Read on for more, or skip down to the bottom of the page for a summarized report!
From the moment I stepped through the doors, I was struck by the purposeful design of the small but well-appointed tasting room of Asbury Park Distilling. Every aspect is intentionally curated, from the clusters of books and subtle nautical touches decorating the shelves, to the copper mermaid floating silently above the bar. Crisp white walls reflect afternoon light, and the bartenders are backed by dark framed windows showcasing the heart of the business: A great custom-made Carl Artisan Still stands as the centerpiece in the next room, surrounded by the tools, bottles, and barrels of an active, working distillery.
Even the elements of the tasting room’s bar are meticulously maintained. Copper cocktail shakers reflect the color of the still behind them, tiny clear and blue bottles hold various tinctures and bitters like some turn of the century apothocary, and the flowers – which add a welcoming, organic touch – double as garnishes so that no space is wasted. The look is clean, refined, and cohesive, while still maintaining welcoming vibe.
According to Zack Ohebshalom – one of co-owners and founders of Asbury Park Distilling – this is exactly the kind of environment he and his partners wish to cultivate in the careful creation of their tasting room. They pride themselves on the Distillery’s appeal to the diverse populations and generational divides found in Asbury Park as much as to the quality of the spirits they produce. Even their logo – a lovely mermaid with closed eyes -is meant to reflect the forward-thinking tolerance and diversity Asbury Park is known for. Designed by a local artist (the same Porkchop responsible for many of the iconic murals found throughout the city), the logo is not only a beautiful piece of art, it’s packed with meaning.
I immediately knew I was going to like it here.
The Suite of Craft Spirits
The Asbury Park Distillery began with three spirits – Vodka, Gin, and Barrel Finished Gin – and each has won awards this year with the American Distilling Institute and the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. A few months ago, they expanded their offerings, adding a Double Barrel Bourbon Whiskey. The young whiskey is aged two years in new barrels, and then finished in the same barrels used to finish their aged gin, imparting a unique botanical flavor.
The custom-made still is capable of creating each of these, allowing a wide breadth of product to be made on site with one piece of equipment. Even the ingredients are locally born and bred, as only New Jersey sourced grain and agriculture is used in their spirit production. The new recipes are painstakingly developed by Master Distiller Bill Tambussi, who earned a graduate degree in brewing and distilling in Scotland, and Assistant Distiller Kelly Lynch.
Vodka: Unlike most commercial vodkas that are often all burn and no flavor, I’ve found craft vodkas to have a special character. Asbury Park Distilling Vodka is no exception. Despite it’s obvious strength, it has a sweetness from the local corn, as well as something light and floral on first sip.
Gin: Gin is something of the signature spirit of Asbury Park Distilling, reported as their most popular since opening. Like the vodka, the clear liquor has something of a refreshing lightness. The recipe is obviously complex, resulting in a flavor profile that is crisp, mildly floral, and just a touch more bitter than many other local gins I’ve enjoyed.
Barrel Finished Gin: I have a bit of a soft spot for this one. You don’t always see aged gins, but the end result blends the best parts of two of my favorite spirits. As with whiskey, finishing gin in barrels grants a lovely caramel color, and in the case of Asbury Park Gin, softens the crispness of the botanicals with a smoky sweetness. This Barrel Finished Gin is versatile, and can give an interesting twist to cocktail recipes that include whiskey or gin as the main ingredient. Because of it’s dual character, it has a wide appeal and is great for introducing people to a spirit outside their comfort zone.
Double Barrel Bourbon Whiskey: Despite being a young whiskey, the Double Barrel Bourbon is a robust, full-bodied spirit. The flavors are unique – It has the sharp, smoky characteristics of a scotch on the forefront, smooth sweet undertones of a traditional bourbon, and curious botanical notes throughout. The last element comes from finishing the aged whiskey in the same barrels used to age the Barrel Finished Gin.
While I think the Barrel Finished Gin is my favorite to sip neat, the Double Barrel Bourbon Whiskey makes some absolutely beautiful cocktails.
BONUS – Housemade Amaro: One of the clear stars to rise from the creativity of the tasting room’s team has been the recipe for a housemade amaro. Deliciously sweet without being cloying, the herbal liqeour really stole the show for me with its combination of warm spices, anise, and other botanicals. The amaro is so popular that that the Distillery is even working on a bottled version to sell alongside their spirits. You can bet that I will be one of the first in line when it’s released!
Artisanal Cocktails & Bespoke Ingredients
Due to strict state regulations, New Jersey distilleries are only able to serve products produced on site. This means commercially made mixers are not allowed and all elements must be made in house in order to be served. What may have been an insurmountable challenge to others turned the tasting room into a particularly special destination to discerning patrons. In addition to only using their own spirits in their cocktails, the Asbury Park Distillery utilizes house-made bitters, cordials, and syrups exclusively, resulting in unique concoctions that can truly not be found anywhere else.
While a third bartender – Bernard – is also a part of the team, only two bartenders could work in the small space behind the bar on the two visits I made this month to Asbury Park Distilling. With an array of tattoos along his arms, Dan is a taciturn individual, calm and collected as he makes two or three drinks at a time with another five requests already in his head from the eager crowd. He knows his craft, and he does it well. Beside him, Casey’s eyes are bright with a hint of a smile as he, too, engages two, five, eight guests at a time to make as many drinks with a practiced hand. Both bartenders make an incredible team, barely exchanging a word as they deftly navigate the narrow alley behind the bar and pass drinks made for each other’s guests between them.
New Summer Menu
I was lucky enough to arrive in Asbury Park just in time to experience the launch of their new summer cocktail menu. With both twists on familiar recipes and truly inventive ideas, the small line-up showcases the handcrafted spirits alongside seasonal, fresh ingredients. Visiting with friends, I was able to try about half the menu, and I can honestly say each and every drink was beautifully balanced, allowing every ingredient – including an ample dose of liquor – to shine.
The menu has something for everyone, but if you need a suggestion that really shows off the program as a whole, I’ll suggest to you the same thing Dan suggested to me as my first drink: The Asbury Park. With the Double Barrel Bourbon, housemade amaro, and a touch of citrus peel, it’s pretty much my ideal cocktail.
Asbury Park has a long and storied history on the Jersey Shore. The location was made famous as a destination for wealthy beach goers in the early 1900s, resulting in beautiful turn of the century architecture and design along its boardwalk. As few decades later, its ground-breaking music venues drew crowds from all over, but as more time passed the area saw significant decline. Thanks to local government, talented artists, and creative entrepreneurs like Asbury Park Distilling, this once opulent gem is seeing a much-deserved rebirth.
I’m so happy to see the city grow and thrive as it regains its status as a unique seaside destination. While only time will tell what the future holds, with it’s convenient location and stellar craftsmanship, Asbury Park Distilling is poised to do great things in this revitalized community.
At A Glance: Asbury Park Distilling Co.
Location: Asbury Park Distilling Co., 527 Lake Avenue, Asbury Park, New Jersey
Hours of Operation: Thursday 5pm-10pm; Friday 5pm-Midnight; Saturday 3pm-Midnight; Sunday 3pm-10pm
Facilities: The tasting room can accommodate up to 45 guests. There is minimal seating at the bar, along the walls, and in a small outdoor patio space. Street parking is available.
21+ Only: From college kids, to professionals, to local retirees, everyone is welcome at the Tasting Room – as long as you’re old enough to drink. Make sure to bring your ID as they card at the door!
Why Visit: The artisanal cocktail program is not to be missed.
Must Try Cocktail: You can’t go wrong with any of the options on the minimal menu, which is adapted to every season. If you go this summer, I highly recommend The Asbury Park for my fellow bourbon lovers.
Insider Info: If you want to snag a seat that bar, make sure to show up 15-20 minutes before opening. On Saturday and Sunday, the line forms early, and you never know if you’ll have to compete with a large bridal party or tourist group. If you can’t manage the early timing, it’s still worth stopping by – the bartenders may look busy but they make sure everyone who wants one has a drink in their hand. There is plenty of standing room inside and outside the bar to enjoy the experience.