South Jersey is riding the wave of beverage tourism that has risen significantly since the state passed new laws in 2012 and 2013, relaxing Prohibition-era restrictions on craft breweries and creating a license for craft distilleries.
As a result, many college students are interested in the industry and institutions like Stockton University are offering more programs to prepare the next generation of brewers, distillers, and winemakers.
At a recent event at Little Water Distillery in Atlantic City, which opened just last year, two Stockton University professors were hosted. Donna Albano and Christina Cavaliere read from their new book Craft Beverage and Tourism, Vol. 2 and discussed the future of beverage tourism in the city. Stockton is opening a new campus there as part of the 675,000-square-foot Gateway project and Albano explained that the university is offering more hospitality and tourism courses to keep pace with the craft explosion.
“It’s one of the industries you can’t teach in a stagnant manner,” said Ms. Albano to the Press of Atlantic City.
As of 2016, 68 craft breweries were operating in New Jersey and 43 more were in the works.
“That [2012 law] was the big one, the watershed moment that made a difference,” said Ryan Krill, co-founder of Cape May Brewing Co. “We would come down to the shore, and there was nothing here.”
Now, they produce more beer in one day than they did the whole first year they were in business. “It’s highly complicated, and it’s competitive. We are a tourist destination,” he said.
As of right now, according to New Jersey Craft Beer’s website which is the most up-to-date and comprehensive list, 80 breweries are up and running across the state. Cape May County alone has five breweries in addition to Cape May Brewing Co. – 7 Mile Brewery, Bucket Brigade Brewery, Cold Spring Brewery, Ludlam Island Brewery, and Slack Tide Brewing Company.
Flying Fish Brewing Co. in Somerdale is the largest craft brewery in New Jersey. Camden County has 10 breweries in operation, the most of any county. Monmouth County comes in a close second with nine breweries. Brewpubs, a meadery, cideries, wineries, and distilleries also crisscross the state.
The number of distilleries across the state has more than doubled, increasing from seven to 20 (also according to New Jersey Craft Brew’s website), and distillers are forming a guild. “People are craving a sense of identity with where they live,” said Little Water co-founder Mark Ganter. “Little by little, we’re trying to build a kernel here of interest.”
There seems to be plenty of that. According to a Cape May County tourism survey conducted last year, more tourists visit for the craft brews and spirits than the fishing. The industry is another way for some towns to become year-round destinations. Contributing to the creation of thousands of jobs from bartender to brewmaster and all the roles in between, the industry has over a $1 billion impact on the economy of New Jersey.