Blue Rascal Distillery is now open
Hammonton’s first legal distillery is now open for business.
Blue Rascal Distillery owned by Curtis and Kelly Perone, opened on March 18, and originally began as a passion project.
“It started as a hobby, and it evolved,” said Curtis Perone, a 1989 graduate of Hammonton High School who is a certified medical illustrator by trade.
Curtis Perone said that he first became interested in the craft industry to make blueberry spirits “to help the local community.”
“My family owns a blueberry farm—Macrie Brothers—and we thought it would be a good, interesting way to help ... Once they opened up the craft industry in New Jersey in 2013, we thought it would be a good way to look into it and see if it was a viable business. Then I started taking classes for it, going to school, did some training on it and that’s how it opened. It started to snowball from one thing to the next,” he said.
One of the greatest challenges facing the distillery, he said, has been learning how to navigate through the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“All the state offices were closed, all the federal government agencies were closed. All that time we lost, waiting. The still came from Germany; it was supposed to take a year, but it took almost two years because of COVID closures in Germany and here, and the ports; COVID put us at least two years behind. We bought the building in 2017, and we had projected to be open no later than by January of 2020. This past year has been a challenge with everything: contractors, shipping delays, nobody was in their offices so you couldn’t do anything. Everything was shut down,” he said.
Kelly Perone concurred, noting that it was a pleasant surprise that the distillery was able to open when it did.
“We were lucky that, by Christmas, we had what we needed to do our first batch of blueberry wine, bottling run for the vodkas and the whiskeys, and it took the first two and a half months of the year to go from, ‘OK, now it’s in a bottle,’ to ‘we need to open the tasting room,’” she said.
Like Curtis, Kelly Perone also grew up in a farming community; her family is now in its fifth generation of farming corn and soybeans in Iowa, though she has been living on the East Coast since 2000. Now, she works for Comcast Effectv, which is the ad sales division of Comcast.
“Before I worked at Comcast, I’ve always worked at small start-ups, so I’ve always been involved in small business, working and helping launching small businesses as part of my career path. It’s been a really good partnership, because Curt’s got all the vision and the creativity, and the tasting room is totally to his and his mom Cora’s credit, but it’s been a lot of fun to help support it in any way I can,” she said.
Kelly Perone said that the distillery’s premier product is their blueberry brandy, which Curtis Perone said is made from local berries.
“We’ve processed over 4,000 pounds of frozen blueberries already, and, hopefully, when the season starts, we’ll have fresh berries to process. We’ve been making a brandy from it. Basically, you make blueberry wine first, then we run that through the still, and we do two runs: we do a stripping run, then a spirit run. We’re making liqueurs all made from frozen concentrates and fresh juices, and, again, because everything is seasonal, we get everything in basically frozen and we add alcohol, sugar and water, and make the liqueurs; they’re all 60 and 70 proof. Eventually, we plan to use more of the local crops once they’re in season,” he said.
He noted that Blue Rascal’s style of clear brandy follows the European eau de vie tradition.
“It’s not the flavored brandy that everybody’s used to. That’s been a challenge, too, to get that across, to try to explain the difference in classifications that we have to follow for the products that we make. People are used to flavored, blackberry brandy stuff, but that’s not real; that’s flavored. We’re actually making a traditional, European product,” he said.
In addition to the blueberry brandy, the distillery also offers six fruit liqueurs, as well as rye whiskey, wheat whiskey and vodka.
When deciding on a location, Kelly Perone said that Hammonton was their clear choice.
“The distillery, as a passion project for Curt, has snowballed into what we hope to be a really successful business, in addition to the careers we’ve worked really hard to be awesome at, and that we love ... We’re close to family, and we’re helping to make the community better. I want our 5-year-old son, Luciano, to grow up in this awesome town and love it, and I want the town to be successful and grow. We hope the distillery will make that happen, and contribute to the growth of the town,” she said.
Blue Rascal Distillery is located at 8 West End Ave. For more information, call (609) 878-3578 or visit bluerascaldistillery.com.