Beer market Burgeoning craft brewing industry is making waves at the Shore, attracting beer fans and tourists alike

Meg Fry//July 4, 2016//

Beer market Burgeoning craft brewing industry is making waves at the Shore, attracting beer fans and tourists alike

Meg Fry//July 4, 2016//

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To the Beach Haus Brewery in Belmar, “Classic American” means waves, sand and sun. At least, that’s how its popular Pilsner is marketed.

Co-founder John Merklin is proud to build the brand that way.

“Generally, the Beach Haus brand is associated with leisure and being laid back,” Merklin said.

The Beach Haus Brewery is built like a boardwalk, with an outdoor deck and a beach umbrella logo, while the brand contributes to the craft beer identity of the Jersey Shore — two factors that only add to the reputation of an area already bustling with summer tourists.

“The Shore is so much more than three blocks in Seaside that were filmed for a couple of years for a television show,” Merklin said. “Everybody has a Jersey story.”

In fact, the Jersey Shore now represents a significant craft beer market, with one of the highest concentrations of breweries in the state.

Out of market
Don Russell, executive director of the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild, said he has seen the potential in marketing craft beer in relation to the Jersey Shore.
“We’re already seeing a good bit of Jersey Shore branding in these breweries, from (Fairfield-based) Cricket Hill’s Jersey Summer Breakfast ale to the very naming of the breweries,” he said. “7 mile, for example, refers to 7 Mile Island, one of (Cape May County’s) barrier islands.”
That’s fair. Cape May is still very much the Jersey Shore.
But what about Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing Co. in Cherry Hill — located on the west side of the state?
The brewery is a funky, Jersey Shore-themed bar, complete with a boardwalk spin wheel and funhouse mirrors, that relies heavily on its marketing and event planning to produce up to 3,000 barrels and $1 million in revenue a year.
James J. McGovern III, partner and director of the labor law and alcohol and regulated products law practice groups at Genova Burns in Newark, believes the state is oblivious to utilizing such brands for tourism opportunities and marketing platforms.
“What hasn’t been done quite yet is the state figuring out how to put a package together to grow all of this,” he said. “The idea is, the more jobs you grow, the better the economy is, the more people have to spend — if you can put that all together, it adds up to real numbers.”

Monmouth and Ocean counties alone currently house over a dozen of the more than 50 breweries and 15 brewpubs operating in New Jersey, according to the Garden State Brewers Guild, with half a dozen more on the verge of opening.

Michael Kane, president and founder of Kane Brewing Company in Ocean Township and vice president of the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild, is happy to be a part of the growth.

“It’s become quite a little hub of craft beer brewing in New Jersey,” he said. “In the summer, if people are going to the boardwalk or the beach, they can also stop here on the way, or they can hit three or four breweries in a day and make a trip just out of that.”

Breweries are typically not weather-dependent, but that doesn’t mean bummed beachgoers are the only ones visiting.

“Many of the folks who visit our brewery today are experience junkies,” Merklin said. “Beach Haus Brewery is the destination itself.”

The number of craft breweries in New Jersey has quadrupled over the last four years, following revisions to the state’s Class A licensing statutes for alcohol, wine, distilled spirits and beer.

But despite the $1.24 billion economic boom, the market in the state — even in Monmouth and Ocean counties — is not close to saturation, said Augie Carton, owner of Carton Brewing Company in Atlantic Highlands.

“We opened up on the main street of a legitimate bay shore town thinking we had five to 10 years to grow into the space, and were at capacity in six months,” Carton said. “But while 500 percent industry growth in five years sounds phenomenal, you have to remember that we are the most densely populated state.

“Mathematically speaking, we have nowhere near enough breweries in even just Monmouth County. It’s hard for us to even notice that there’s another brewery.”

According to 2014 data from the Boulder, Colorado-based Brewers Association, New Jersey ranked 29th in the country for its number of craft breweries. However, the state ranked 48th in breweries per capita, while Pennsylvania and New York ranked 25th and 26th, respectively.

Merklin, having worked in the technology industry for 20 years, realized quickly this industry was not about 100 percent dominance of the market share.

“It’s important to carve out your own following by having a strong sense of tribe and always be an option for folks,” he said.

That’s exactly what Jeff Plate, founder of Asbury Park Brewery, intends to do by combining the Jersey Shore music scene in Asbury Park with craft beer.

“In a city like Asbury Park, I think we could support a number of breweries based on the culture while still giving everyone the opportunity to express their own unique voice and hold down their share of the market,” Plate said.

Asbury Park Brewery
Executive: Jeff Plate, founder
Founded: Expected to open this summer
Headquartered: Asbury Park
Annual production: Expecting to brew 3,000 barrels in its first year; goal to expand to 15,000 barrels annually by purchasing additional tanks
Employees: 9
Jersey Shore-themed beers: Heavily reliant on its logo: a seahorse. Traditional brews such as an extra pale ale, a lager, an American amber ale and a roasted Irish stout.  
Beach Haus Brewery
Executive: John Merklin and Brian Ciriaco, co-founders
Founded: Brand, 2007; brewery, 2015
Headquartered: Belmar
Annual production: Undisclosed; 30-barrel brew house
Employees: 26
Jersey Shore-themed beers: Classic American Pilsner (depicts waves, sand, sun and beach umbrellas); Cruiser India Pale Ale (depicts a beach cruiser bike); Winter Rental Black Lager (depicts a beachside fire pit)
Carton Brewing Company
Executive: Augie Carton, owner
Founded: 2011
Headquartered: Atlantic Highlands
Annual production: 3,000 barrels annually
Employees: 12
Jersey Shore-themed beers: 077XX East Coast double IPA (based on Jersey Shore ZIP codes); Boat Beer session ale (designed for responsible, recreational drinking); Something Like Sandy sour stout (an experimental stout that Hurricane Sandy left wild for 10 days)
Kane Brewing Company
Executive: Michael Kane, founder and president; vice president of the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild
Founded: 2011
Headquartered: Ocean Township
Annual production: Undisclosed; 20-barrel brew house
Employees: 26
Jersey Shore-themed beers: Not a marketing focus, but some brews do depict abstract waves. However, its brews are appropriately named: Head High American India Pale Ale; Single Fin Belgian-Style Blonde Ale; Cloud Cover Farmhouse Wheat; and Drift Line American-Style Brown Ale, to name a few.
Ship Bottom Brewery
Executive: Robert Zarko, co-founder and president
Founded: Brand, 2011; brewery scheduled to open this month
Headquartered: Beach Haven
Annual production: Expecting to brew 2,500 barrels in its first year; 15-barrel brew house
Employees: 10
Jersey Shore-themed beers: Barnacle Bottom Stout (depicts a shipwreck); Double Overhead India Pale Ale (depicts surfers); Shoobie American Pale Ale (depicts day-tripping beach goers)

Plate, a graduate of Rutgers School of Law in Newark, has been running his own private law practice in Asbury Park while starting up the brewery in partnership with local musicians and Crush Music Management.

“I grew up in Ocean Township, so it wasn’t quite as calculated as picking out the most optimal location on the map. There were surrounding towns that would have been easier to open up in than downtown Asbury Park,” Plate said. “But Asbury Park is known around the world for good times and great music. Much like Brooklyn Brewery had capitalized on Brooklyn’s culture and vibe, I felt there was a similarly strong presence in Asbury Park.

“I thought it should have its own world-class beer, too.”

Despite strong local ties, Plate envisions his brewery — which is awaiting final inspection before opening this summer — to be primarily a manufacturing and distribution brewery over a local tasting room.

“Most bars in Asbury Park are excited about the launch of our brand, and so are the music venues in Manhattan, Brooklyn and elsewhere along the East Coast that we have built relationships with,” Plate said. “The idea is that, when all of these people visit Asbury Park in the summer, they become more and more familiar with our brand. Eventually, they will want to bring us home with them, much like a memento from the beach.”

However, when it comes to craft beer, there is a hypersensitivity to being local.

For instance, it was important for Merklin and his partner, Brian Ciriaco, to stay in the area after co-founding Beach Haus in a garage in Brick Township.

“We just became the anchor tenant for the former site of Freedman’s Bakery and opened the doors to a new brewery, tap room and retail store in May of last year — five blocks away from the beach,” Merklin said.

Local living can also mean sustainable business, Kane said.

“We wanted to live near the beach and start (Kane Brewing Company). Ocean Township was open to having us and had the industrial space in which to do it,” Kane said. “It’s also a good mix of year-round community with summer tourism.”

Kane Brewing Company sells all of its draft beer in New Jersey through its tasting room and local bars and restaurants.

“Our tasting room stays just as busy in the winter as it does in the summer,” Kane said. “Our focus is on the local market and we want to continue to grow that market as long as possible.”

While some breweries, such as Beach Haus and Asbury Park, choose to capitalize on the local culture, for others, it’s just a way of life.

“We are beach people,” Carton said. “We were raised talking about surfing and boating. These aren’t marketing choices we made — we just grew up here.

“We are simply speaking in our language to our neighbors. We enjoy when people outside of that scope get it, but our thought was always, there are enough people in Monmouth County to support a small brewery.”

Even brewers from outside of New Jersey see the potential, however, of a brand affiliated with the Jersey Shore.

Ship Bottom Brewery, for example, started as a one-barrel brewery in a home garage in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, in 2011, after Robert Zarko, president and co-founder, successfully brewed a batch of beer at his wife’s family beach house in Ship Bottom in 1995.

“We wanted people to drink our beer, have a good time and, in the winter, think of us and be able to buy our beer at their local liquor store,” Zarko said.

Now, Zarko has installed a production brewery in Beach Haven that is scheduled to open this month.

He is committed to making the brand local: His brews are often named after landmarks, such as Fortuna India Pale Ale (named for the famous shipwreck off Ship Bottom’s coast), Shack India Pale Ale (named after the Causeway Shack outside of Long Beach Island) and Chicken or the Egg India Pale Ale (a collaboration beer with a famous restaurant on Long Beach Island).

Canned beer
Carton Brewing Company in Atlantic Highlands began canning all of its brews a year after opening the brewery.
“You can’t bring bottles on the beach,” Augie Carton, the owner, said.
It’s a trend that Don Russell, executive director of the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild, expects to see more of from Jersey Shore-based breweries.
“Most of these breweries are startups, so they’re probably a few years away from full-scale packaging,” he said. “When they do, I would expect some of them to seize onto the craft beer canning trend, since packing cans for the beach, pool or boating is much easier and safer than bottles.”
Beach Haus is planning to offer canned beer by next year, and Kane Brewing Company has begun canning beers for sale at its brewery with hopes to sell them to liquor stores in the future.

Zarko also believes he can build his brand by focusing on tourism itself.

“The tourist system starts in late May and goes through September, in which we will be open seven days a week,” he said. “It’s more challenging in the slow season, but we’ve got the brewery and the tap room open Friday, Saturday and Sundays in the off season.”

Ship Bottom Brewery is concentrating distribution on New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, with the goal to grow along the Eastern seaboard over the next couple of years.

“We are already looking for another location in which to build a 60-barrel production brewery in either New Jersey, southern Pennsylvania or northern Delaware,” Zarko said. “We expect that, once we open, we will already be over capacity.”

Building a brewery in the Jersey Shore area is a phenomenal way to organically build a brand, Kane said.

“We serve the local community year round, and, in the summer, there is a creative influx of people from different parts of the East Coast,” Kane said. “It’s a great way to expose our beer and our brand (to those) who will then look for our beer in the places that they live full time.”

It’s the expansion plan Beach Haus Brewery has been counting on all along.

“The population in Belmar can swell five times in the summer,” Merklin said. “I believe the Beach Haus brand has wide appeal to folks up and down the East Coast, and we feel the same would be true for the West Coast as well.”

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