Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Keeping tabs on the rising count

Some numbers to peruse ...

The Brewers Association, the trade association representing the majority of U.S. brewing companies, maintains a searchable database of breweries across the country and in the U.S. territories of Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

The lists for the states and territories also include breweries in development, a number that comes to 739 (up from 618 the Brewers Association reported back in March, by our count).

The 739 figure is a soft number – more proposed breweries can end up in the database or come off, plus there may be some planned breweries that the Brewers Association is unaware of, while some in the database may no longer be viable, as is the case for a project still listed for Landing, N.J.

Simply put, however, the database addition is certainly a reflection of the growing number of folks looking to get into the craft beer business, hoping to join the more than 1,750 breweries now churning out beer in the U.S.

Here are some breakdowns gleaned from the database:

California, a big state with a large, beer-friendly population, leads with the way with 98 in breweries development, followed by Texas (49) and Colorado (48).

The Garden State clocks in with 17 – nearly as many projects in development as there are craft brewers operating in New Jersey (19).

Odds are, most of the Jersey projects are production breweries of some sort, whether nano or larger.

Brewpubs prove to be a tough path, given municipal – not state – control over bar licensing, a condition that sharply drives up the start-up costs. (Despite that, there currently is a brewpub project in development, Laetare in Monmouth County.)

Nonetheless, 2011 has been one of the busiest for startups in the state since its early days of craft brewing in the mid-1990s. (Still, though, the Brewers Association ranks New Jersey 42nd in breweries per capita, with one brewery for every 439,595 people. The Garden State has about the same number of breweries as Vermont, which has the best per capita ratio. New Jersey's dense population, of course, busts the curve for us.)

The current growth phase over the past two years comes on the heels of a 10-year drought in adding new beer-makers. Changing demographics – the age 21-to-30 crowd is heavily into full-bodied beers of all styles – and bars' stampede to add craft taps are giving a lot of homebrewers and others who entertained the idea to start a brewery the confidence that they can make a go of it.

"New Jersey is not so much making up for a lost decade, as simply picking up where they left off," says industry watcher Lew Bryson, who co-authored New Jersey Breweries (2008) with Mark Haynie.

"Beer bars have been doing a lot of the heavy lifting, and now that some of the more conservative-minded beer sellers have been convinced that this 'microbrew thing' has legs, there's opportunity for a small brewer," Lew says. "Is it a startup bubble? Some of them aren't going to make it, sure, but that's going to happen in any surge like this, in any industry. Three steps forward, one step back. Demand keeps rising; you need more capacity to fill it, and you need more new beers to drive it."

Jersey snapshot
State regulators, so far in 2011, have licensed four production breweries – two nanos (Great Blue and Cape May Brewing) and two beer-makers with brewhouses at 15 barrels or greater (Carton and Kane Brewing).

Three more are sprinting to toward the finish line – Flounder, Tuckahoe and Turtle Stone – and expect to get the green light to begin making beer by the end of the year.

Much farther behind them are ones like Blackthorn Brewing, a planned father-daughter enterprise, and Black River Brewing, a planned Pennsylvania project with ties to New Jersey.

Chip Town and his daughter, Jacqui, of Jackson in Ocean County, are still siting a location for Blackthorn Brewing but envision their brewery of malty English and Irish ales ending up in their home county or southern Monmouth County.

Part of the banking world for 30 years, Chip, 55, has been making beer at home for the past 15 years; Jacqui, 25, a recent graduate of The College of New Jersey with degrees in marketing and chemistry, has been homebrewing seriously for three years.

(Jacqui came up with the brewery name, a nod to Ireland and the iconic walking sticks; Chip's mother's family is from County Roscommon, in the northwest of Ireland. The Towns also maintain a blog about their project.)

On the drawing boards for a couple of years now, Chip says plans call for Blackthorn to have a 20-barrel brewhouse to feed 40-barrel fermenters and hit the market in bottles and draft. The Towns are in the process of completing their business plan and will then pursue private investors.

"Once I have capital in my fist, I'll be out looking for warehouse space, hiring a brewer and start ordering stainless," Chip says. He doesn't expect problems with finding a location. "I've been working with a commercial real estate broker (who says) there's a lot of quality food-grade commercial space available out there because of the economy."

Blackthorn has been able to tap industry insiders for advice, something Chip is grateful for, noting Jersey brewers and their counterparts across the country have readily answered questions he's had.

"I've spoken to people in Texas, New York, Colorado ... Gene Muller (from Flying Fish) has been a huge help to me. He's let me pick his brain," Chip says. "Jesse Ferguson at Carton has been helpful; they've just gone through everything we're going through."

The Towns expect Blackthorn beer to find a niche in the local market. "Seeing what Mike Kane and Augie and Chris Carton are making – they're doing the West Coast styles – no one seems to be focusing on the maltier profile," Chip says.

Jersey vs. Pennsylvania, a business decision
Dave Grosch lives in Flemington in Hunterdon County, where he owns D&K Specialty Coffee, a wholesale coffee distribution company that supplies restaurants. He's also into brewing beer at home, quite active in the hobby over the past seven years. Dave, 45, even got to lend a hand at River Horse Brewing on a day the Lambertville brewery was making a batch of its flagship lager.

He's done well in homebrew competitions across the Delaware River, last year earning the title Homebrewer of the Year in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Friends suggested Dave go commercial. A fellow homebrewer in his club circles, Bryan Clayton, 30, of Lansdale, Pa., had designs on going pro, too. (Bryan is a project manager for a clinical research company.)

The two teamed up for Black River Brewing, a production brewery project they want to equip with a 20-barrel brewhouse and locate in Bucks County, Pa. They're eyeing the greater Philadelphia market, hoping to enter it with a Vienna lager, saison, IPA, and porter in bottles and draft.

Dave says they're working on a business plan and are about to begin raising cash for the project; then they'll pin down a location.

They chose Bryan's home state because the business climate is friendlier to craft brewing than New Jersey is. Among their concerns is New Jersey's restrictions on retail sales from the brewery, long a complaint among some Garden State craft brewers.

In Pennsylvania, Black River would be able to sell from the brewery tasting room everything from pints to kegs, so long as it adheres to seating requirements and sells some quantity of food. That's not possible in New Jersey, where production brewers' retail allowance is currently restricted to two six-packs or two growlers for consumption off premises.

"The main advantage is, you can be like a bar, but you're not trying to be the corner bar," Dave says.

Such sales, he says, would be vital revenue stream in addition to distribution to bars on either side of the Delaware, and in Pennsylvania state stores and packaged goods stores in New Jersey.

The brewery's name, incidentally, is a nod to the Lamington River in New Jersey and the Black River in Ireland, where Bryan has family roots.