Thursday, April 19, 2012

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

4-barrel brewhouse for Cape May

New Cape May brewhouse
It looks like Flying Fish isn't the only New Jersey craft brewery that's getting bigger.

Cape May Brewing is living larger these days. Not quite like the new brewhouse and that bunch of 150-barrel fermenters installed at Flying Fish's new digs in Somerdale, but it's nonetheless a healthy jump in size for New Jersey's southernmost beer-making enterprise.

For just shy of a year, Cape May Brewing has been making a splash in its corner of South Jersey, with a range of beers produced in batch sizes of a barrel and half or less. The brewery and its beers have been well-received; check out one of their Saturday afternoon open houses to find out for yourself. (See their Facebook page for hours.)

In light of that reception, owners Chris Henke and Ryan and Robert Krill saw that it was time to grow again.

This time, the jump is a big departure from the capacity tweak they made around last fall, when they stepped up from their tiny initial brew set-up (a trio of repurposed half-barrel kegs) to a 1.5-barrel system that Chris, an engineer, created.

Even with last year's size change, Cape May was staying quite busy, with Chris brewing four times a week.

Now, buoyed by a $68,000 economic development loan from their host town (Lower Township), Cape May Brewing is now stepping up to a 4-barrel Pub Brewing system acquired last November from a Maryland brewpub. The brewery is backing that up with a half dozen 15-barrel fermenters.

To make room for all of this, Chris, Ryan and Robert have taken over two adjacent units in the business park-like building on the Cape May County Airport property where the brewery launched last summer.

But wait, there's more.

Cape May is retiring its start-up Cornelius kegs more common among homebrewers, switching to sixtels and half barrels, for which the brewery is adding a kegger and a keg washer. (It pays to have an engineer on board: Chris is building the keg washer.) Supportive draft accounts accommodated the Corny kegs, but the new industry-grade ones will give Cape May a wider reach.

Meanhwile, the floor drains have been dug and concrete was expected to be poured this week. Ryan forecasts Cape May Brewing version 2.0 will be up and running in June.

Floor drain work
Licensed in May 2011, Cape May's draft beers began hitting the taps at its first account, Cabanas, a nearby oceanfront bar, a couple of months later.

Since then, the brewery has produced a dozen different styles, including a wheat beer, a stout, a honey porter, a brown ale, and a flagship IPA that took a first place in judging at last month's Atlantic City beer festival.

In the pipeline now are a saison and a k├Âlsch, plus a re-release of their cranberry wheat.

"We started out on a shoestring budget, but we're getting more sophisticated as we go. Our licensing happened quickly, our popularity happened quickly, and now our expansion is happening quickly," Ryan says.

Craft beer billboard hits, the Top 50

Click to enlarge
Ahead of the Craft Brewers Conference (May 2-5 in San Diego), the Brewers Association has been doing an industry data dump (like this and this).

The latest one is the chart at left (we added the background of a new Flying Fish fermenter).

The list of Top 50 craft brewers (by sales) is populated with a lot of names you'd expect, and the compass points in directions you'd likewise guess to be there,  i.e. California and Colorado.

Regionally, you'll find F.X. Matt (No. 6), Dogfish Head (No. 12), Brooklyn Brewery (No. 13), Victory (No. 27) and Blue Point (No. 34).

There is another ranking worth noting, Alaska Brewing at No. 14.  (And what follows isn't commentary on their beer.)

Alaska has less than a third of the population of Brooklyn (a borough), and about a 12th of that of New Jersey (an East Coast state); it's median income is $64,000, compared with $70,000 for the Garden State.

Yet, it's a bigger craft beer producer.  Draw your own conclusions.

But ...

Keep those phone calls and emails pouring in to lawmakers in Trenton. The legislation to change the regulations is still pending.