Brewing and reviewing since 2012.
New Jersey is an odd place, a small state known more for people who aren’t from here (for the last time, Snooki is from New York!) than for what we actually offer. Even though we are such a small state, we have 4, possibly 5 if you’re a Central Jersey believer, distinct geographic areas. One of them gives us our smoggy national reputation (thanks, Newark), but today we’re going to focus on South Jersey, an area mostly free of spray tans and Yankee fans.
South Jersey is the type of place that I drive out-of-area friends around and they act shocked to find farmland in New Jersey. The area is largely responsible for our Garden State nickname – we’ve got parks, farm, open skies, and now, we’ve got beer. Up until this point, Flying Fish was really the only craft brew coming out of the area. Turtle Stone has been putting some things out, and I’ve enjoyed what few beers I’ve had from them, but they’re pretty much only seen at beerfests. There’s Tuckahoe, Cape May, and other shore breweries, but they’re just that, shore breweries from one of those distinct regions I mentioned. But now, there’s about the be an influx of breweries to South Jersey.
I’ll let this article tell you about the breweries, as they do a good job getting the basics across and deserve credit for that. I’m most excited for one of the breweries that just got a bullet point, Lower Forge in my former hometown of Medford (Lakes, to be exact). It’ll be awesome to go visit my parents and come home with a fresh growler from a local brewery, and I hope to see them do well. Medford’s Main St. is a pretty cool little spot, and if their original plan holds up and they’re able to add a brewery to the area I can only see it doing well. As for an update on them, they are seemingly starting to get the process rolling, serving beer at Medford’s Third Thursday events and relaunching their site. Hopefully 2014 will see Lower Forge open their doors.
I find it interesting that the list included a brewery without a brewer (Forgotten Boardwalk), but I guess taking over Flying Fish’s old digs will earn you that. For now, let’s talk about the rest and their chances of survival in this craft beer market we’re in. I’ve already seen craft beer turn around a bar that had been exchanging hands annually in Ott’s Medford. When they had their Kentucky Breakfast Stout event after the Derby, that place was packed with people there just for the beer. It was awesome to see, and had to be encouraging for all these new brewers popping up.
In all honesty, South Jersey is a market starved for local beer. We’re right outside Philly, and contribute to the stellar craft beer reputation of the city by going over the bridge to pack specialty events at places like Monk’s and Eulogy. However, outside of Flying Fish (and Iron Hill if you want to include brew pubs), we’ve really got no small time local breweries. And that’s what makes me so excited to see these places in planning. By the end of 2014, we’ll optimistically have 8 new breweries! If that doesn’t get you amped about local beer, then I don’t know what will.
Now, do I think all of these breweries will succeed? No, honestly and unfortunately, I don’t. I really hope they do, because it’d be awesome to go to a different tasting room every weekend. New Jersey’s updated laws that allow for serving beer at the brewery will be a definite help to all of these establishments, but even then I don’t think they’ll all make it. The beer industry is not an easy one to survive, and unfortunately I think these breweries are going to have fans that are spread too thin for them to survive.
Ultimately it will be profitability which decides if a brewery survives, not the beer. Though the beer does help a brewery become profitable once its reputation is established, when you’re running at the capacity of these places you can’t make a mistake. I look at a place like Glasstown, and they’re planning on doing a half barrel system but running with at least 6 beers. That seems like a lot to be doing on a 15 gallon set up, and all 6 need to be hits. If one beer tanks, that could be all it takes to put them on thin ice. I think Lunacy has a better plan, launching with one flagship beer that they stand behind to live or die with. It’s a pretty bold statement to put themselves in the class of Green Flash and Stone already, but if they rope fans in with one outstanding beer people will be more open try other offerings when they come. I’ll definitely be giving them a shot just because they put themselves out there like that.
For all of these breweries to succeed I think they’re going to need to work together, much like the area’s wine industry does. Take Vintage South Jersey, a collaboration between the South Jersey Tourism Corp and local wineries. They’ve set up trolley tours like the sold out the Two Bridges and Pinelands Reserve Wine Trail Holiday Trolley Tours. Instead of cutthroat competition they’re joining forces to get a large group to all of their wineries. This will build loyalty to multiple places, and people get to try a bit of everything instead of picking one at a time to go check out. How awesome would this be for breweries? A trolley from Mt. Holly, to Medford, to Cherry Hill, hitting 4 breweries? I know I’d be on board. Hopefully these new breweries will be able to work out a similar event.
It’s a great time to be a beer lover in South Jersey, and I wish all of these breweries the best of luck. Before we know it, people will be clanking glasses filled with local beer, toasting what the South Jersey beer scene has become. Cheers!