As if one local distillery was not exciting enough, Hopewell Township may be getting another. Chad Goerner, former mayor of Princeton Township, who now lives in Hopewell Township, appeared before the Hopewell Township zoning board requesting a use variance to permit a farm-to-bottle distillery to be located in the historic barn on his residential property (currently zoned for mixed-residential use) on Aunt Molly Road.
The distilling venture, called Mount Rose Distillery, is an homage to the distilling roots in the historic hamlet of Mount Rose centered around the intersection of Pennington-Rocky Hill / Cherry Valley Road and Carter Road / Princeton Avenue. In the 19th century, Mount Rose was a “thriving center of rural commerce and agricultural industry” according to the Hopewell Valley Historical Society, and the historic Mount Rose Distillery was located only 500 feet from the proposed new Mount Rose Distillery. At the time of operation, the historic distillery produced hundreds of barrels of peach brandy, apple cider, and apple whiskey.
“We hope to bring a piece of Hopewell history back into for the enjoyment of the community,” explained Goerner’s attorney.
“Mount Rose is celebrating its 194th anniversary this year,” explained local architect Max Hayden, who has been retained by Goerner for this project, and who also owns neighboring property in Mount Rose.
Goerner, who has a strong background in distilling, provided the zoning board and members of the public with a powerpoint presentation explaining the history of distilleries in New Jersey, which has only been brought back by a law passed in 2013 that encourages small scale distillery operations as another outlet for farmers to use their produce. Currently, explained Goerner, New Jersey makes up only 1% of craft distilling in the United States.
Mount Rose Distillery will produce small-batch artisanal spirits and liqueurs drawing on ingredients sourced both on-site and from area farms. Goerner plans to grow a wide variety of fruits and create seasonal production of distilled beverages that reflect the same timing and product that was distilled in the late 1800s. Pear and apple trees were already growing on the property when Goerner purchased it, and he has planted 20 additional types of fruit trees over the past year with a goal to use the produce for the production of spirits and liqueurs from the site. He also planted herbs and berries for the same use.
One of the more unique products that Goerner plans to create is something called an “eau-de-vie” which is a fruit brandy from fruits such as pears, apples, peaches, apricots, and plums fermented in a fruit mash. Goerner will also make distilled fruit brandies by encapsulating immature fruit still on the fruit tree in a glass bottle which is then grown within the bottle until the time of picking.
The distillery will not be open to the public and can be visited by appointment only, as Goerner also resides on the property. Sales will be primarily through distributors and restauranteurs.
“We will just be focusing on managing the farm,” explained Goerner. “This is a long-term commitment and we won’t even be able to open for 2 years or more.”
During the application process, the zoning board identified a concern about water availability to the 5-acre lot, which currently relies on well water. With the distillery, the anticipated water needs would be approximately 650 gallons per day (to put in perspective, an average family of 4 uses 400). Ultimately, the application was approved on the condition that the applicant seek connection to the public water service that runs along Cherry Valley Road.
“I support this application and, if the property was larger, it would be already approved,” explained zoning board member Marylou Ferrara.
Mount Rose Distillery received substantial support during the public session portion of the meeting.
“We should be supporting farming and, to whatever degree we can, support our newer young farmers with a different perspective on how to farm in this community,” said Committeewoman Vanessa Sandom. “Chad brings a vision that we sorely need in this community.”
Others spoke about the history of distilling in Mount Rose, the distillery’s artistic contribution to culinary culture of the Hopewell Valley community, and support from neighbors as a “perfect activity” for the property.