Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

Master distiller John Granata sees distilling as both science and art. That’s a logical perspective coming from a former restaurateur (Evergreen, Upper Montclair) whose dad is a chemist. “We’re guided by taste,” he says of Jersey Spirits, which he co-owns with partners Sue Lord and Betty MacDonald. “Bourbon has such a rich history, uniquely American. We’re just trying to make things as purely as possible.”

That begins with sourcing locally, though there are some necessity- based exceptions. “Obviously, we don’t have sugarcane,” Granata jokes. His resulting line-up of spirits evokes Jersey history and folklore, including two distinct bourbons: Crossroads and Patriot’s Trail. The former, a four-grain comprised of corn, rye, wheat and barley malt aged for six months in American oak, was the first to be manufactured and released here since before Prohibition, Granata says. (See: Edible Jersey, Spring 2016, “Five Craft Beer & Spirits in Fairfield.”) His holy grail is balance: sweetness from the corn, smooth mouthfeel from the wheat.

Patriot’s Trail, a “high rye” bourbon, was made for Manhattans, which reside close to the distiller’s heart. Rye brings a spicy character to the glass that has made it a favorite of mixologists in recent years. “My parents got me into Manhattans a long time ago,” Granata says, tracing his culinary perspective to an Italian-American childhood where traditions surrounding food and drink intertwined. “It’s almost like cooking. When I design a recipe, I look to what the grain has to offer and try to design something that has a nice balance. With bourbon, it’s 51% or more corn, but the other grains are undefined so you can really delve into it—though less, sometimes, is more.”

Granata sees the bourbon horizon fast expanding. “Before craft, there were 350 bourbon brands in the US made by just seven distilleries,” he says. As a small producer, he’s free to hone in on specific flavor characteristics, and to tease nuance at the fermentation stage, where “off” flavors like horse blanket or vinegar can be tapped for transformation into toffee and sweet pineapple. A new batch of Patriot’s Trail is aging, so expect a re-release in early 2018.

Jersey Spirits hosts mixology classes for drinkers who want to upgrade their home bartending game