This fall continued to deliver great riding weather as we made our way out to the Milk Street Distillery in Branchville, NJ. We began our trip through the picturesque Delaware Water Gap and exited off interstate 80 to route 94 north in Columbia, NJ.
Sussex county NJ remained timeless as always on this near cloudless day as we lazily rolled up 94 toward Blairstown. No matter how many decades have passed in my lifetime, this area never seems to change. A quick satellite view from Google maps will confirm as much with the only signs of development being mostly farmland interrupting the patches of trees. We made a left onto Stillwater Road or route 521 and with a couple of more turns and the passing of a couple of lakes, found ourselves entering historic Branchville.
Branchville is an independent municipality completely surrounded by Frankford Township. It was established by settlers from Connecticut in the 18th century and walking around this small borough gives one the feeling you may be on the old set of Mayberry, the fictitious town of the 1960’s TV show, the Andy Griffith Show. In the 2010 United States Census the population was 841, a decline of 4 people since 2000 which had already declined by 6 since the 1990 census. It’s certainly not a growing town, but its charm is not in short supply.
Brothers Mike and Gordon Geerhart operate their distillery in a 125 year old barn witch has been tastefully renovated. It is the first distillery in Sussex County since the Sussex County Distillery Co. burned down in 1948. As it is with new distilleries, Mike and Gordon have to wait before they can sell any aged spirit and so for now they offer clears, a vodka, a rye, and a rum. It’s the first time I’ve ever had an non-aged rye.
New Jersey is a little strict with their distilleries as they’re not allowed to sell any food. They also are compelled by the state to provide tours as there is to be an educational experience attached to the business. However, we did learn that Gov. Chris Christie singed a law reducing the $12,500 per year license to operate which was causing distilleries to disappear, to just $938 per year. Their tour package included tastes of their spirits and a shot glass souvenir all for $8. Mike saw my interest in his rye and was generous enough to go back to his aging barrels to pour off a little of his aging rye even though it’s not completely ready for distribution. All three spirts are done well and we grabbed a bottle of the rye to take home with us.
It’s a shame NJ distilleries can’t offer food but you are allowed to bring anything in with you that you’d like to eat and tables are available. They also have entertainment on weekends, you can learn more about the place at milkstreetdistillery.com, we highly recommend this place.
A sense of how short the days are becoming this time of year hovered over us as we made our way home but we left with plenty of daylight to burn. We passed over the Dingman’s Ferry bridge, the fourth of a series of bridges that took the place of a ferry that used to transport people across the Delaware River back in 1735. It’s probably one of the last bridges left where you’ll be greeted by a toll collector standing between the single lanes of traffic collecting the tolls by hand.
We headed south on route 209 to return home wondering how many more weekends like this we’ll have this late in the year.