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In Good Spirits
Blue Rascal Distillery embraces an advantageous location in the Blueberry Capital of the World to create the inspired, one-of-a-kind liquors that Head Distiller Veronica Townsend is proud to offer her neighbors.

by Madeleine Maccar

When Veronica Townsend graduated from Northeastern University with a degree in Human Services and an athlete’s drive reinforced by the school’s rowing team, she found herself wondering what her next chapter would be like.

A hotel job introduced Townsend to the French chef she found “super inspiring,” which kick-started the early career path that made it clear she was destined for distilling.

“I moved back home to New Jersey and ended up going to the culinary program at ACCC [Atlantic Cape Community College],” she begins. “I was living and working down in Cape May as a line cook, but I needed a job for the winter because everything is seasonal down there. It was the right place at the right time: I found a distillery opening up that was in the build-up phase, so it was the perfect time to get in. There was a master distiller on the project who gave me some on-the-job training … They were on a 60-acre farm, so we were able to plant the sweet potatoes, harvest them and turn them into vodka. Then I went out to Tucson, Arizona, and made single-malt whiskey there, but Jersey is home and when I came back, Curt and Kelly [Perone] had just opened Blue Rascal, so I got in here.”

This fall will be Townsend’s eighth year of distilling while May marks her third year of devoting those talents to Hammonton’s Blue Rascal Distillery, where she brings to life the brandies, whiskeys, gins and other spirits that get their start right in the heart of blueberry country.

“We get to work with Jersey Fresh blueberries – which is awesome!” says Townsend, Blue Rascal’s head distiller. “That’s what I love about what I do: I’m creating something from start to finish, from berries to the end product. It’s given me a deeper appreciation for working with Jersey Fresh produce, which has enhanced working here and living here.”

Townsend credits a great working relationship with the nearby Macrie Brothers Blueberry Farm for providing the farm-fresh ingredients that elevate every product, like the “800 pounds of fresh Hammonton blueberries” that go into every batch of Blue Rascal’s award-winning blueberry brandy.

“When they make the morning delivery, we’ll get right to processing the blueberries: a little bit of sugar, warm water, I’ll blend them up and then pitch the yeast, which will start the fermentation,” she explains. “That will ferment for about two weeks and I will be checking the sugar content of it all, how the yeast is eating up the sugar and turning that into alcohol and CO2. From there, we’ll press out the berries and will be left with a 13% ABV blueberry wine. I’ll let that do a secondary fermentation just in case there’s any sugar left over and then from there, it goes into the still for the distillation, and that takes two rounds: a stripping run and a spirit run. It comes off the still at 160 proof, and I proof it down with water to make it a drinkable strength.”

And while those locally sourced blueberries might not be the dominant note in the spirits that Townsend lovingly and painstakingly distills, they always add something special to Blue Rascal’s botanical blends and artisan infusions – like its award-winning gins, which are her favorite to produce.

“We actually do put some blueberries in the gin because we are in Hammonton,” Townsend says with a laugh. “The botanical blend of gin has to be 51% juniper berries, and then you can kind of do whatever you want, hence throwing in some blueberries – and there’s also coriander, lemon peel, cardamom and cinnamon. We start with a grain neutral spirit base, a corn-base liquor, and then I’ll put botanicals in the still with it. Distilling it is fascinating to me: The botanicals come off in their own section, and then the blend is what makes it great. You wouldn’t taste it and think, ‘Oh, wow, that’s blueberry gin,’ but the blueberries definitely add a nuance that you wouldn’t get in another gin.”

As Townsend nears her third year with Blue Rascal, there’s a lot she loves about her work. And while racking up awards is certainly validating – just to name a few, its coffee-flavored whiskey was a silver-medal winner at the 2023 East Coast Craft Spirit Awards while the aforementioned blueberry brandy clinched a trifecta of silver-medal, People’s Choice and Best in Class recognitions at the same event – overhearing happy clientele sipping on her creations in the distillery’s tasting room is rewarding in its own right.

“Liquor can be intimidating and people are very set in their ways about what they want to drink, so it’s awesome any time they can branch out and find something new to like,” Townsend says. “It’s great that we can provide so many different things and have something for everyone. And people love it, which is really cool.”

Blue Rascal Distillery
(609) 878-3578

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 9.
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