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Asbury Park Distilling Co

“On any given night, what allows me to get to that higher ground is the audience” – Bruce Springsteen

The seaside city of Asbury Park in central New Jersey is one of the state’s most culturally rich enclaves, and Asbury Park Distilling Co. has quickly become one of its brightest jewels. The bustling but intimate community is ripe for growth and thanks to a thriving downtown area, vibrant residents, plus a historically significant boardwalk. Asbury has no shortage of inspiration to draw from. This fact isn’t lost at all on the folks who run the show.

An obvious indication of them mining that rich local lore lies in their logo, designed by the well-known Asbury Park artist Mike Lavallee, which captures several of the city’s points of pride along with the distillery’s own. Eyes closed to indicate that she sees no differences and accepts all, ensconced in juniper berries and rye stalks – the backbones of their gin and whiskey distillates – and laid against a familiar medallion that can also be found on the Carousel Building along the boardwalk, Asbury Park’s logo puts pride in their hometown front and center.

That’s all well and fine for branding’s sake, but in talking with co-owner Rob Wile and his staff, it became apparent to me that their devotion to the city and their local audience is a driving force behind what makes the entire operation work. One example is the way everyone from master distiller Bill Tambussi and his partner Kelly Lynch down to the head bartender Casey Bowen are all encouraged to experiment and use the distillery’s tasting room as a testing ground for innovative expressions.

It was this not-so-clandestine tinkering, whispered on the lips of envious but admiring bartenders across the state, that brought them to my attention. It’s also that ethos of experimentation that lead to their latest expression: a coffee bean infused Espresso Limoncello and their soon-to-be-released Clemencello. As the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention.” Those ideas in particular arose as a way to reinforce their complement of ingredients in the tasting room (where, due to state laws, they’re only allowed to sell alcohol they produce on-site), and they’ve been met with an enthusiastic reception.

Their experimentation and community-minded approach also includes their regular donations to the local Boys and Girls Club, having one of their partners on the board of the Asbury Park Music Foundation, plus participating in (and even hosting) ongoing bartender competition events known as Jersey Slingers, where a portion of the proceeds go to charity. In my conversations with co-owner Rob, he’s made it clear on multiple occasions that they’re constantly probing ways to do more to support their home state, a state that has in turn rewarded them by making Asbury Park Distilling Co. the best-selling brand of whiskey distilled in New Jersey. Furthering that emphasis on local uplift is the fact that 100% of the grains Asbury Park Distilling Co. uses in their own distillate are sourced from New Jersey’s own Rabbit Hill Farms.

The team is fantastic, their tasting room is frequently crawling with thirsty regulars – all too happy to return time and again to the only bar in town that carries just one brand of spirits – and their inspirations are both evident and genuine. This all makes for a great story, but naturally the other shoe has to drop. The question has to be asked… is their whiskey any good?

To answer that question, today I’ll be reviewing their two bourbon expressions: the Asbury Park Small Batch Bourbon, which is more limited and released twice a year, and their Double Barrel Bourbon, which is finished in gin barrels; a unique twist borne out of their aforementioned emphasis on creativity.

First let’s try the Double Barrel Bourbon, and note the pertinent details. This bourbon is sourced from MGP and aged for at least two years before being finished in 30 gallon gin barrels for about one month on average. The mash bill for this release is 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley. It clocks in at 88 proof (44% ABV) and carries a suggested retail price of $45.

Asbury Park Double Barrel Bourbon – Review

Color: Strawberry blonde.

On the nose: Juniper berries cooked in brown sugar spring out of the glass on first pass, giving a rather on-the-nose indication of what exactly this expression is. That initial greeting is joined by faint spearmint, anise seed, and pine notes. There’s also a bit of vanilla-and-caramel that emerges as this sits in the glass which serves as a reminder that it has a bourbon base and not a rye one. Though the gin influence is immediately evident, it doesn’t swing too far in that direction as to be off-putting for those predisposed against the clear spirit, and complements the bourbon base in a way that keeps me coming back.

In the mouth: Initially there’s a rush of white sugar, rather than the brown sugar from the nose, before stewed juniper comes in with a heavy dose of caramel. Again, even if tasted blind, it’s apparent what components make up this expression. It’s really midpalate where a steeliness and strong botanical note gives away the gin influence. It isn’t a complex pour but it doesn’t have to be as the unique flavors deftly fold into one another, serving to compliment more than compete. As the finish makes its approach the caramel wins out over the other flavors and the anise seed from the nose finds its home and lingers long enough to remain interesting despite the finish being a bit short overall.

Conclusions:

We have a surprise on our hands. As one of those people who is predisposed against gin, I enjoyed this expression, though I do feel like there’s something missing. Perhaps the MGP whiskey they use needs to mature a bit to shore up the length of the finish and provide a more robust experience, because the gin finishing is well done and I think the proof point is ideal for what this is trying to accomplish. The flavor wrought by the gin influence is enjoyable and unique, but I do think that the effect it has on the mouthfeel midpalate and the astringency and brevity it brings to the finish are unwelcome for me in a whiskey. I’d like to grant this an extra point for novelty, but ultimately I think it is decent whiskey that has room for improvement.

Score: 4/10

Onward we go! Next is Asbury Park’s more classic Small Batch expression. As mentioned above, this release comes out twice a year (May and November) and it clocks in at 92 proof (46% ABV) for a suggested retail price of $50. The three things that distinguish this expression from the Double Barrel Bourbon are that it features a mingling of barrels that are slightly older (next year it is slated to carry a 4 year age statement), it consists entirely of their own distillate, and as such the mash bill is different. For this expression they use a 62.5% corn, 25% rye, and 12.5% malted barley recipe.

Asbury Park Small Batch Bourbon – Review

Color: Topaz.

On the nose: Sweet corn begins serenading right off the bat and strikes that beautiful balance between indicating its youth and inviting you behind the curtain to appreciate its nuance. Within that nuance there are notes of melon rind, chocolate truffles, and sugary green raisins. If you’re familiar with the aromas typically associated with two-to-five-year-old bourbon, you’ll find many of them in this glass and you’ll also find them well executed. This already has the makings of a tasty pour.

In the mouth: Sweet melon and nice black pepper spice burst onto the palate riding the wave of a fairly creamy mouthfeel. Clove prominently emerges midpalate and is joined by a really nice butterscotch note that persists through the medium-length finish. Well rounded, with an enjoyable texture that keeps you wanting more and never threatens to dry out your palate, this is a pour that I can see myself reaching to time and time again.

Conclusions:

Let’s be clear about what’s happening here: from the nose to the palate this is unmistakably youthful bourbon, but it isn’t “good for youthful bourbon;” it’s just plain good. The nose was fine, but didn’t telegraph the relative complexity that you’ll find on the palate which ended up being a pleasant surprise. This could easily supplant most of the legacy brands you’re familiar with as an “everyday sipper” in the sub-$50 category but unfortunately, due to it being from a craft distillery, it falls on the higher end of that pricing spectrum. I would like to award this an extra point for how well-rounded it is and how much promise it shows for the future but as it stands I think this is good, reliable bourbon that anyone would be happy to try and buy.

Score: 5/10

Final thoughts:

It’s a discredit to Asbury Park Distilling Co. to say they have a bright future – although they do – because what they’re already doing deserves a wide audience. While increased storage and production capacity will surely lead to big things for the brand moving forward, I think anyone inclined to try the whiskey Asbury Park has to offer will be pleasantly surprised. Using their tasting room “audience” as a testing ground for their experiments has created a symbiosis with the community that seems to be unique in New Jersey and has helped Asbury Park Distilling Co. become not just a fun destination, but also a whiskey producer to watch. If you somehow missed out on Bruce Springsteen’s debut album from 1973, then this will be an equally exciting greeting from Asbury Park that you’d be wise not to overlook.

CategoriesAmerican
Frank

Calling New Jersey “home” isn’t just reserved for Frank’s less handsome contemporary, Michael B. Jordan. Born and raised in the Garden State, he developed an enthusiasm for bourbon, a respect for wood, and a penchant for proclaiming things are “pretty, pretty, good.”

  1. Graham says:

    Frank,

    I absolutely loved this write up. I felt like I was rooting for Asbury Park from the outset! As for the whisky I really liked the balanced review; good for now, better in the future. I think that’s was all young distilleries should be aiming for at this stage.

    Thanks,

    Graham

    1. Frank says:

      Thank you for the kind words, Graham, they’re appreciated. I’m with you, I think that Asbury Park has a lot of great things coming in the future but they’re well worth a try already! Cheers

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