Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 1/17/17
Throughout Central Jersey, craft breweries have been popping up as quick as you can pop off a cap, pulling in visitors eager to tour the facilities, sample beer and learn about brewing.
However, in terms of distilleries, Hunterdon County has been lacking. That is until Skunktown Distillery — named for the original name of Sergeantsville, “Skunktown,” which is the hometown of co-owners Caine Fowler and Paul Hyatt — opened for business on Dec. 22, making it the first in Hunterdon County and one of the few in the state.
“America is currently going through a distillery trend which is similar to what craft beer went through,” said Fowler. “It’s currently a challenge to go through the licensing process, paperwork and investment. However, we were enjoying some moonshine in May or June of 2015 and we said to ourselves, hey, we’re smart enough, we can figure out how to make this.”
The two friends, who met as both of their daughters are members of the Roxey Ballet and the girls’ mothers knew that their husbands would hit it off, did some research and learned that distillery is “really just seventh-grade science,” said Fowler. After talking it over with their families, Fowler left his job as an IT project manager at a pharmaceutical company to work with Hyatt, who still works as a tile setter, to start Skunktown Distillery.
“I worked with a lot of laws in my previous job, so I thought I could figure it out,” said Fowler with a shrug. “Everything is about finding about what the problem is and what the solution is. Theoretically, it was kind of an easy fix.”
In his previous position, Fowler traveled internationally and had the opportunity to try alcohols from all over the world, and he said that he has always been interested in trying new things, so opening Skunktown Distillery wasn’t a completely outlandish move for him.
Although there were times that the pair was hesitant about their new endeavor, the project finally got off the ground and now Skunktown Distillery is in talks with politicians to host an official grand opening in a few weeks.
The craft distillery currently offers tours of their facilities at 12 Minneakoning Road in Flemington on Fridays from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. for $10 per person, which last about 30 minutes and includes tastings of their four products — rum, oaked rum, vodka and spiced vodka, which range from $23 to $30 for 375- to 750-milliliter bottles. The tour hours will expand in the spring. Soon, they also plan to offer collaborations with local breweries as well as whiskey and bourbon.
About 50 people turn out each week to tour the distillery, which can accommodate about 15 people at a time, and try the products, of which the oaked rum and spicy vodka are the most popular. Fowler and Hyatt also sell drinks at the distillery using their products, such as Dark and Stormys, Bloody Marys and coconut water mixed with the spicy vodka.
Fowler said the oaked rum is very popular because of its unique flavor — it tastes similar to a whiskey. Plus, the spicy vodka is made from the world’s hottest chili pepper, the Carolina Reaper.
“You get the flavor of the pepper in the vodka, but it’s not overpowering,” said Fowler. “There is a very strong awareness of the heat on the back of the palate, but it’s not like a buffalo wing sauce where your lips are burning — there is a (tinge of pepper flavor).”
Many of the ingredients used in Skunktown Distillery’s products are locally grown — the peppers in Fowler’s backyard. Other ingredients are from nearby Delaware Township farms.
“We use non-GMO and organic products for all of our liquors,” said Fowler. “A lot of the larger distilleries just mix all the ingredients of the rum together, but since we are smaller, ours are much cleaner and they have a higher purity, which also means no hangover.”
Currently, Skunktown Distillery’s products can be found only at the distillery. However in the coming weeks, they will be able to be found in local bars, restaurants and liquor stores.
In the future, Skunktown Distillery hopes to move their facility to Sergeantsville, as well as possibly add Wednesday and Thursday open hours for tours. Despite how much they grow, however, Skunktown Distillery plans on continuing to give back to the United States through all of their sales.
Skunktown Distillery donates at least 5 percent — sometimes more, depending on sales — of their revenue to the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit dedicated to helping wounded veterans.
“Paul and I are both very thankful that we have the country that we have and we are not naïve — it is at others’ expense,” said Fowler. “If we can open up a distillery that is first and foremost about agriculture and also return some to those who have paid for our freedom, that feels mandatory.”
Where: 12 Minneakoning Road, 110b, Flemington
Hours: Friday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost: $10, which includes a tour of the facility and a tasting of the four current products