WYCKOFF, N.J. — Distiller Randy Pratt of Oakland has had plenty of reasons to raise a glass over the years.
In 2012, state authorities reduced the cost of a small-class distiller's license from $19,000 a year to $1,000.
The following year — just before the 80th anniversary of the ratification of the 21st Amendment lifting Prohibition — they allowed small-craft distilleries to produce 20,000 gallons of artisan spirits.
Two years ago, Pratt opened Bergen County's first official distillery, Great Notch Distillery in Wyckoff.
"I caught the fever," said Pratt, a Wayne native and former Elmwood Park assistant schools superintendent who was looking to change careers when the idea came to him.
Last year, Great Notch was named New Jersey Distillery of the Year, while Pratt's Garden State Dry Gin earned a bronze medal at the New York International Spirits Competition.
The path to success wasn't always as smooth as Pratt's booze.
"A lot didn't work in the beginning," he said. "I just didn't know the process. If a spirit didn't come out there were probably six or eight different reasons why -- and I had to figure out which one it was, and then do it again correctly."
Pratt could only blame himself: He's a one-man operation."If something goes wrong, I can't point to anyone else," he said. "The finger gets pointed at me."
Then again, Pratt gets all the credit for his apple pie moonshine, foreign whiskey and award-winning gin. After all that he's learned about the production process, Pratt said sharing his liquor is his favorite part -- and likely always will be.
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