Rick Reed was trying to stay ahead of the curve when he opened Cricket Hill Brewery in Fairfield in 2002.
“I looked at what was happening in Pennsylvania, with little breweries such as Victory coming out with wonderful craft beers — and I said, ‘You know what? New Jersey is a very viable market … let’s be at the right place at the right time.’ ”
He was right — but just off by a decade.
New Jersey finally appears to be getting around to being that perfect place to start a brewery. According to Reed, more than 15 breweries are scheduled to open in New Jersey this year, in lower-profile areas such as Plainfield, Edison, Sparta, Lafayette and Hackettstown, and in the areas you’d expect — Asbury Park, Hoboken and Jersey City.
But the state wasn’t so ripe in the beginning.
“We had to fight to have the same rules as New Jersey wineries,” Reed said. “You could have on-premise consumption at wineries, but not breweries.”
The law made it impossible for breweries to earn money from beer sales after tours — both on the property and to be taken away — robbing breweries of both quick revenue and brand exposure.
Thanks to the 2012 revisions of New Jersey’s Class A licensing statutes for alcohol, wine, distilled spirits and beer, that’s no longer the case.
“New Jersey has made it easier for businesses to establish and generate revenue with the hope of participating in the growth of the industry in the Northeast regional area,” said Justin Csik, an attorney who specializes in licensing with Stark & Stark in Lawrenceville.
“(The revisions) give microbreweries alternative revenue streams because they’re now able to sell directly to consumers,” Csik said. That led to “a renewed interest in establishing startup microbreweries in New Jersey.”
Prior to the law, New Jersey breweries struggled to compete on an equal playing field with nearby states.