Drowning in Craft Beer

Given that a new microbrewery seems to pop up every month in the Garden State, it is almost sobering to think that only five existed in New Jersey back in 2009. Now, five is a bit of a misleading number; there were also a few brewpubs, which could sell homemade beer along with food.

The original five of New Jersey’s modern craft beer movement include Climax Brewing in Roselle Park in Union County (1996), Cricket Hill in Fairfield, Essex County (2000), Flying Fish in Cherry Hill, Camden County (1996), High Point in Butler, Morris County (1994), and River Horse in Lambertville, Mercer County (1996). All five are still open, although Flying Fish is now in Somerdale and River Horse moved to Ewing.

Those five joined 11 brew pub locations as members of the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild, which included notables such as The Ship Inn in Milford, Hunterdon County, J.J. Bitting Brewing in Woodbridge, Middlesex County and Triumph in Princeton, Mercer County.

Allow me to pause for a moment to help the uninitiated understand the difference between a brewery and a brew pub. New Jersey, like its sister state across the river, Pennsylvania, has arcane and annoying laws regarding alcohol. It might stem from our old colonial roots (think: Puritans), but that’s neither here nor there. Both states do not allow convenience stores to sell beer, for example, which is almost as shocking to out of towners as learning there are no self-service gas stations in New Jersey.

According to author and attorney Michael Pellegrino in his overlooked tome Jersey Brew: The Story of Beer in New Jersey,

Microbreweries can sell up to 15,000 barrels per year. *** Brewpubs are affiliated with a restaurant and are limited to selling their beer on site to retail customers. Under New Jersey law, brewpubs cannot distribute their beer through a wholesaler.

That’s what you need to know regarding home grown beer sales in the Garden State. Additionally, any time you walk into a craft brewer’s tasting room, you are (as of now) required by law to do a “tour” of the brewery before you can sample the product. Tours can range from a legitimate tour of the production area to a video presentation to a pamphlet. One local brewer even did their tour by way of stamping the back of my hand with some facts about beer (this quickly disappeared, however).

As silly as that law sounds, this is a big improvement to what existed before 2012, the year a bi-partisan bill was crafted, which has allowed the industry to boom. Remember, back in 2009, there were 5 craft breweries and 11 brew pubs. As of February 10, 2018, there are now 83 craft breweries in the state, plus 15 brew pubs and 25 start-ups with pending licenses. A mere two years ago, it was only 44 breweries, and in 2014, it was 22 breweries. Not that this is sustainable, but if the trend continued, we would surpass 150 breweries in the state by 2020.

Like cupcakes and frozen yogurt, we will see a contraction of these places. I am not sure when it will happen, but the market will hit its limit and some will fade. Hopefully, the better breweries will survive, and the smaller ones that serve their local neighborhoods will endure. I have been to many of these places already, both big operations and small mom & pop joints (well, really, the vast majority are pops; only Forgotten Boardwalk in Cherry Hill boasts a female owner, from what I understand).

I love beer and I love small businesses; one of the reasons I moved where I did was because there was a craft brewery within walking distance (not necessarily easy to do in a state dominated by highways and suburbs). Byting Reviews has been a site solely about movie reviews, but when it started, we did talk about other things (OK, mostly television shows). As the site undergoes a face lift and the staff approaches it with renewed spirit, I would like to take the time to review something as near and dear to my heart as movies. So, even if there are more than I can keep up with, I am going to review every brewery (I can get to) in the great swamp state of New Jersey.


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