“Farm To Glass” Featured At New Colts Neck Distillery

January 25, 2019
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Local and county officials joined the owner of the Colts Neck Stillhouse for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo by Laura D.C. Kolnoski

By Laura D.C. Kolnoski

COLTS NECK – Back in his native Ohio, Geoff Karch’s grandfather had an exclamation for surprising or noteworthy events: “Holy Muckleyeye!” he would shout over a great golf shot or joyful news. So when Karch, owner of the recently opened Colts Neck Stillhouse at 304 Route 34 in the township needed a name for his brand of small batch spirits, the made-up word was the natural choice. FYI, it’s pronounced “Muck-lee-eye.”

Karch and his wife Maryann join a rarefied group of Colts Neck distillers. Laird & Company, which still operates at Laird Road and Route 537, was the first distillery in the United States, and holds the first federal distilling license issued after Prohibition. At their original location (now the Colts Neck Inn,) President George Washington made frequent visits to sip, and eventually gain the recipe for, the company’s famous Apple Jack, which he dubbed “Jersey Lightning.” Thomas Jefferson was also a customer and emulator.


Maryann and Geoff Karch in the barrel room of the Colts Neck Stillhouse.

Karch and his investors are hoping for similar legendary success. Opened in early December, the 4,800-square-foot facility held a grand opening Jan. 16. The circular bar area was packed with local and county officials and well-wishers, including Thomas Arnone, Monmouth County Freeholder director, and freeholder Lillian Burry, co-founders of the county’s Grown in Monmouth initiative. Burry, a Colts Neck resident, former mayor, and owner of Colts Neck Realty, sold the Karchs their township home 25 years ago.

“We will use products grown in Monmouth County wherever possible,” Karch told the crowd. Distilling equipment is visible through glass in one room, while another room at the one-story building holds wood barrels. Each room has a mezzanine; one is Karch’s office. Out back a patio offers fire pits and seating. Tours are available on Fridays and Saturdays.

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“The outcome is a homerun when you use local products,” Arnone said. “Monmouth County’s Grow Monmouth and Grown in Monmouth programs have been so successful, the state is emulating them.” Burry said there are currently about 15 distilleries in New Jersey.

“Area farms have already agreed to grow the necessary corn, ryes and other grains the Colts Neck Stillhouse will use,” she said. “Distilling is an art and Geoff Karch will give us an artful product.”

Parking for the event overflowed into adjacent farms’ lots. Karch said that once the new microbrewery behind the distillery opens later this year, shared parking will provide more spaces. Currently under construction by different owners, the microbrewery is converting portions of an old farm that occupied the entire site for generations.

The Colts Neck Stillhouse bar room.

The drink menu and apron-clad bartender/mixologists demonstrated the intricacies of a detailed craft cocktail program utilizing house-made tinctures, bitters, cordials, syrups and sodas. Herbs, shrubs and produce feature prominently. The Bloody Janice, a take on a Bloody Mary, is available Sundays only. A version of Harry Potters’ butterbeer – the “BBC” (Butter Beer Cream) – is made with house rum, brown butter syrup, cream soda and homemade whipped cream. Other products made on site include Copper Pot Distilled American Gin, Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Straight Rye Whiskey and vodka distilled from wheat. Drink ingredients will change seasonally, Karch said.

To market his products, Karch will draw on skills he honed in advertising sales at 21st Century Fox, the Nat Geo Channel, ESPN and ABC Sports. “Now I get to market my own products after so many years of marketing other people’s,” he said. Since state distillery rules prevent the Stillhouse from serving food, beer or wine, Karch is bringing in rotating food trucks including Cousin’s Maine Lobster and Ms. Fu’s Yummy Food Truck. 

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“It’s a very unique thing and a great concept for this community,” said Ed Brock Jr., co-owner of Brock Farms nearby on Route 34. “I think it will be a great draw.” Acting Mayor Frank Rizzuto, captain of the Colts Neck Fire Police, and a Long Branch Police captain, led the Pledge of Allegiance before the official ribbon-cutting.

“When Geoff was running around trying to get his business going, he was community-minded enough to take time out to let the entire Colts Neck Fire Department run a drill in an old building on his property,” Rizzuto related. “The Stillhouse adds a destination to our business district and will hopefully bring people into the township.”

“I followed my dream and my passion,” Karch concluded. “We are at the starting line.

We want to be one of the premier distillers on the East Coast.”

This article was first published in the Feb.7-14, 2019 print edition of The Two River Times.

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