Meet the Man Behind Great Notch Distillery

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Most people wouldn’t expect a former educator to establish a distillery, but for Randy Pratt, there was a connection between the two worlds.

By Sarah Emily Gilbert

You could say that Randy Pratt was born with the will to learn. After many years vested in education as a teacher, administrator, and instructor on the collegiate level, he was well equipped to overcome the learning curve that came with opening up a distillery. Although he was a newbie to the distilling industry, Pratt was a veteran in the classroom. So, he signed up for several workshops and a distilling class at Michigan State University until he was ready to open up Great Notch Distillery in Bergen County.

“Every part of [launching Great Notch] has been a learning experience. Being a one-man show, you get to learn all aspects of the business and take the bumps and bruises that go with it…the paperwork itself is daunting. I have terrific friends and family who pitch in when I need help. It certainly has been a challenge. One that I’m up to conquering.”

Aside from being the owner, founder, and distiller for Great Notch, Pratt’s titles include laborer, bottler, corker, reports submitter, seller, delivery person, and as Pratt jokingly adds, “When I remember, I take the trash out too.”

When deciding a location for Great Notch, Pratt decided to embrace his home state of New Jersey, a place that also inspired his distillery’s name.

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“[New Jersey] has been good to me. What better place to live? I’m always asked how I came about the name Great Notch. There are two reasons for it. As a bit of a history buff I grew up near the Dey Mansion where General George Washington spent time during the Revolutionary War. He would travel by horse to what we know today as Great Notch, where he would use the notch’s east side as a lookout to observe the movement of his troops. Washington has a remarkable history in New Jersey and participated in the Whiskey Rebellion. Interestingly, he later became a whiskey distiller.

Secondly, the great notch graphic on the label looks like a notch you would find between two cliffs. It represents what is always filled with possibility and new beginnings and is never an empty space. This venture is certainly that for me.”

Pratt’s venture has also reaped great alcohol. He currently has four spirits on store shelves, each carrying the Great Notch logo and representing something special about New Jersey. His spirits include Garden State Dry Gin, High Point Vodka, Devil’s Legend Corn Whiskey, Devil’s Legend Apple Pie Moonshine, and a small batch bourbon whiskey that’s underway.   They are available at a number of locations, which are listed on the Great Notch website, but if your local liquor store, bar, or restaurant doesn’t carry the spirit you’re looking for, you can call or email Pratt to have it delivered anywhere that has a liquor license.

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Pratt explains that everyone has a different taste and liking when it comes to spirits, and each distiller offers something unique and different. This holds true for Pratt’s spirits thanks to his extensive taste testing process in order to find the right recipe – a task that’s arguably the best part of his job. Pratt began his recipe quest with gin. He tried as many different kinds of gin as he could until Pratt whittled it down to five favorites. He started experimenting with flavor profiles he liked from each until Pratt developed his own gin recipe nearly a year later. Featuring ten botanicals with citrus and floral notes, Pratt’s Garden State Dry Gin has been a hit with consumers and has become the distillery’s bestseller.

You can’t interview a distiller without finding out his favorite cocktail. In Pratt’s case, he likes to keep it simple with a classic gin and tonic, but he’s also a fan of the Negroni : 1 oz. Garden State Dry Gin, 1 oz. Campari, 1 oz. Sweet Vermouth and a splash of either grapefruit or orange juice. Shake and poor over ice.

As you prepare your next Negroni with some Great Notch spirits, Pratt is likely continuing to perfect his line of spirits rooted in his mission to support local and drink local. So, cheers to New Jersey and Great Notch Distillery!