Food & Drink

Cranford Neighbors Pour their Love of Vodka into a Business

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Tree City owners Rich Bentrewicz and Michael Maggio. Credits: TAPintoKenilworth Staff
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Tree City logo Credits: Tree City
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Tree City vodka bottles. Credits: Tree City
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A Tree City logo-themed plate sits on the table in the tasting room.  Credits: TAPintoKenilworth Staff
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Tree City equipment. Credits: TAPintoKenilworth Staff
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Tree City bottles in distillery. Credits: TAPintoKenilworth Staff
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The "still" in the Tree City distillery. Credits: TAPintoKenilworth Staff
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KENILWORTH, NJ – Rich Bentrewicz and Michael Maggio met each other about 10 years ago when they became neighbors in the Heathermeade section of Cranford, which consists of tree-named streets like Orchard and Beech. They quickly became friends and began to spend time together with their families enjoying time talking, eating and sampling cocktails by their backyard fires. One of their common interests, tasting vodka, has now become a joint business venture. Their distillery is located in Kenilworth.

The vodka they have worked to perfect, Tree City Vodka, was named to pay tribute to where their idea originated, on the tree-lined streets they live. However, it has even a deeper meaning, Bentrewicz explains, “Our ‘tree city’ was in our backyard sharing time with friends and family, while for someone else that could be a girls night out or some other event that defines enjoyment.” Like their website says, “Tree City, you won’t find it on a map, but you’ll know it when you’re there. It’s that unmistakable feeling that you are exactly where you are supposed to be.”

Tim McCann, the founders’ friend and resident creative director, created the logo and design elements to match the internal brand meaning, adding, “I created the logo to represent the idea of someone’s Tree City, with the leaves as thought bubbles that can represent whatever a good feeling means to them.”

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The trio of men all bring a different expertise to the table, Maggio has an engineering, chemistry and business background while Bentrewicz is a veteran sales and operations professional; combined they have the background to launch a successful business.

Their labor or love started about two years ago when they began to realize that they were looking to taste that perfect vodka but weren’t able to find it on the market. So they decided to research how they could develop what they were looking for, themselves. A lot of research and according to Maggio, “dabbling” in tastes, went into their background work. They were looking for something smooth but not overly sweet. Maggio explains, “Anything too sweet gives a lasting hangover and you want to drink something that doesn’t give you ‘the face’, the burning throat face.”

Creating the perfect vodka isn’t an easy task; Maggio explains the process of distilling and re-distilling until the optimized 190 proof is reached without losing flavor. According to Maggio, the government has very strict standards about what constitutes craft vodka, including the way the product is achieved, handmade, not a continuous automated process, not to mention, reaching the ideal blend of a flavor profile that is cleaner. This process is done through craft distilling which allows the men to make shifts in the process as needed. 

During the process they needed to find the right corn farmer, which provides the vodka base. They looked no further than Monroe Township. Bentrewicz comments, “We wanted a craft vodka product, one that was not automated but handmade with local ingredients, that’s why our base is corn from a local farmer, the idea of a local product is important to us.”

The men now have their ideal product and a distillery location in Kenilworth where they can sell five bottles to each customer on a walk in basis, just in time for holiday gifts. In addition, throughout New Jersey at nearly twenty locations their product is sold, locally including, the Michigan Pub in Kenilworth; The Riverside and The Cranford Hotel in Cranford, and Dittrick’s in Garwood. For a full list of where Tree City is offered you may visit their website.

They are currently self distributing the Tree City product but are looking to partner with a distributor to provide further reach.

In January 2016, Tree City will be offering both private tours and tastings on the weekend.  They will be posting updates to their Facebook page regarding all their latest offerings. 

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