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With a few more i’s to dot and t’s to cross, Hopewell may be getting its very own distillery and brewery. At the Hopewell Township Zoning Board of Adjustments meeting this month, the board heard an application for an amended use variance for the property on the same site as the soon-to-be-open restaurant, Brick Farm Tavern, on 518, just east of Hopewell Borough. The property owner, Jon McConaughy, also owns several other businesses in Hopewell Borough including the Brick Farm Market, the recently renovated Sunoco building, and the Off-Broadstreet Theatre.

The property originally received approval, by the zoning board, to convert the existing historic farmhouse to a farm-to-table country restaurant along with the complementary additional uses as a dairy and cheese-making facility in existing outbuildings. However, as McConaughy explained to the board, the dairy and cheese businesses offered significant licensing hurtles that have made these unfeasible on this Hopewell Township property. The property is also adjacent to McConaughy’s farm, Double Brook Farm, where he grows vegetables and raises meat, as the second on-farm processing plant in the country, meaning that the farmer is with the animal from beginning to end.

The distillery and brewery would each be separately owned and operated but would have substantial overlap and synergy with each other, along with the farm and restaurant. “The plan is to have a vertically integrated system — farm, market, and restaurant with added value of supporting farming uses… We selected distilling and brewing because the water, hops, barley, oats, will be from the farm. From a business standpoint, this looks like an agricultural product,” said McConaughy. “And, at the restaurant, you will be able to enjoy almost an entire meal composed of food and beverage sourced within 5 miles.”

A “tasting room” will be on the premises, shared by both the distillery and brewery, where visitors will be able sample spirits before purchase. The tasting room will be housed directly behind the Brick Farm Tavern, in an existing building that is being outfitted with multi-paned windows similar in style to those in front of the Brick Farm Market.

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As part of the application, both the distiller and brewer offered statements about their prospective businesses. Alex Helms, the individual hoping to establish the on-site brewery explained that it would be a high-tier neighborhood brewery working well in conjunction with the rest of the Brick Farm businesses. If all goes according to plan, the beer would be draft beer brewed on premises, with rotating selections that are made using New Jersey ingredients. The byproducts from brewing will be used on the farm, for example the grains will feed the pigs and the rest will serve as compost. The water that has grain/yeast/hop residue can be used as a natural fertilizer for the plants on the farm.

The zoning board asked about what odors and noises might be emitted in the beer brewing process. “The process starts with… making basically a sugar soup that is pleasant smelling, like freshly baked bread,” explained Helms. As for the noise, he described, “the grain mill is only as loud as an idling car” and will be run for no more than 1 hour per day.

The distillery, Sourland Spirits, is being established by Ray Disch, along with other founding partners. The team hopes to open in late spring 2016, starting with their own distilled gin that will use some of the products from the neighboring brewery.

When asked at the zoning board meeting about the odor and noise in the distilling process, one Sourland Spirits representative explained, “The primary goal of distilling is to capture the steam, so there is not much of a smell” and distilling is done on a closed system so there is no venting. As for the noise, visitors should expect little to none.

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McConaughy compared, for the zoning board, the differences in overall demand between the approved uses and new proposed uses concluding that the water and traffic impacts would be substantially smaller with the new uses. One member of the public in attendance at the meeting asked about the demands on the aquifer, or the water availability to the surrounding properties. McConaughy and his experts explained that the water usage would be the equivalent to a 4-member family household and would be well within the permissible capacity for the property. In voting in favor of the variance approval, zoning board member Marylou Ferrara said, “The approval covers my concerns that the actual usage is less of an environmental impact than what was previously approved.”

Township committee member Vanessa Sandom applauded the zoning board for continuing to support the local economy, “I like the idea of more than one sustainable business here. We have great confidence in the business acumen these businesses proposing to get the Township into the fermentation business. It is great to support our local businesses in the Township and I am greatly appreciative of the fact that there are highly trained, skilled and successful people who will put Hopewell Township on the map.”

The Brick Farm Tavern hopes to open in November of this year. And you can start looking for the other businesses in the late spring of 2016!

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Mary Galioto
Mary Galioto is the founder, publisher and editor of MercerMe, and a lawyer. Originally from Brooklyn, Mary has progressively moved deeper and deeper into New Jersey, settling in the heart of the state: Mercer County. Formerly the author of an embarrassingly informal blog, Mary is a lifelong writer and asker of questions and was even mentioned, albeit briefly, in the New York Times and Washington Post. In her free time, Mary fills her life with excessive self-reflection, photographing mushrooms, and misguided adventures in random hobbies. Mary also works as the PR Coordinator at the Hopewell Valley Arts Council, serves on the volunteer Board of Trustees of the Lawrence Hopewell Trail (LHT), serves on the Hopewell Borough Board of Health, is a member of the Hopewell Valley Municipal Alliance, and holds the elected position as the Hopewell Borough Democratic Committee Municipal Chairwoman.

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