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Bring Your Own

April 11, 2014

It’s not every day that you get to spend quality time with distilling pioneers. But yesterday I dropped by Jersey Artisan Distilling and got to talk at length with Brant Braue and Krista Haley. They are the founders of New Jersey’s first distillery to open since prohibition, and are making some very interesting rums.

After the distillery I swung by Pizza Town USA for a deep fried cheese calzone and a slice. Memories of this lunch will need to sustain me through the week of Passover.

Anyhow, there will be a bigger story coming on the distillery down the road. I also bought a bottle of their dark rum, which will hopefully help me make it through the holiday where rye and wheat are forbidden.

Over the course of my visit, the conversation drifted to a handful of related topics. One of these is the peculiarities of liquor laws from state to state. I got to share some of the weirdness we have in New York. For example, Albany Distilling Company can’t sample their rum at the distillery and liquor stores aren’t allowed to sell cocktail bitters.

In turn, Brant explained to me why there are so many BYO establishments in New Jersey and why that’s a problem. Excuse me, I thought I heard you say “problem.”

Going out to eat in New Jersey, it has been very common to see people bringing in their own wine and beer. From fancy restaurants, to authentic ethnic joints, to regionally famous pizza places, the practice is nearly universal.

New Jersey seems like BYO heaven.

This is in stark contrast to New York where you can only bring-your-own if the place has fewer than ten tables and no interest in ever getting a proper liquor license.

I think BYO is great for a handful of reasons. Ridiculous wine mark-ups are certainly a factor. Paying three times the store price of an ordinary wine doesn’t really get me excited about ordering a bottle. Now maybe if the wine service were special, and included some gorgeous stemware or made sure the wine was served at the proper temperature, I might be more forgiving.

But the biggest reason of all is that in upstate New York, too many wine lists are lazy. They are packed with what I consider to be “supermarket wines,” which are generally tasty but uninspired mass-produced industrial wines that can be found virtually anywhere. Paying $50 at a restaurant for a supermarket wine is insulting. Paying $50 for a bottle of Navarro Gewurztraminer is an equally ridiculous markup, but that’s a hard bottle to find outside the winery.

Honestly, if the wines were better, I’d be more forgiving about the stemware, the knowledgeable staff, and the serving temperature.

When you bring your own, you can choose something rare and special or something super low key. I see no shame in bringing a vibrant $6 bottle of vinho verde if that’s what strikes your fancy.

Just imagine being able to have this freedom virtually every time you eat out.

But in New Jersey it’s not all wine and roses. In fact, it leaves a bitter taste for many. The problem is liquor licenses. There are a fixed quantity of them, and that makes them almost impossible to get for most establishments. They are are coveted commodity and thus are astronomically expensive.

For a new restaurant to purchase one of these rare licenses, it’s going to influence how much they charge for wine and spirits. But I was told that those establishments that do have a license also have a competitive advantage.

As much as I enjoy the freedom to bring my own, New Jersey’s restaurant goers are apparently fatigued of having to drag their wine around with them. Many would just rather have the flexibility of ordering a glass of wine and maybe enjoying a cocktail before or after dinner without having to leave the restaurant for a bar.

I suppose it’s understandable. Every coin does have two sides.

Sadly, we haven’t really taken advantage of the BYO culture in New Jersey. Mostly because the Institute dining service offers some great wines, and when leaving the grounds I will generally be driving. I’m quite fastidious about not drinking when I’m going to be driving. Even if I’m not technically drunk, I prefer to have all my faculties when behind the wheel.

Although come to think of it, there is a chicken wing joint that’s walking distance. And it’s quite possible they are BYO too. That would be amazing. Maybe I will call and check. I imagine they will laugh, or be confused by the question, because the answer is probably taken for granted by everyone who lives in the area.

What can I say? I’m new here. I’m still trying to learn the customs.

One Comment leave one →
  1. EPT permalink
    April 12, 2014 7:51 am

    Just a quick note, [REDACTED by the Profussor] in Clifton Park DOES sell cocktail bitters, I know because I picked up a few Bitter Truth bottles which come from Germany.

    [Note from the Profussor: Yes, there are a small handful of liquor stores that sell bitters, but I understand that they do so at their own risk.]

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