Bob Hughes has a hobby that’s out of control — one that requires 60,000 to 80,000 bees at a time.
“We started out with one hive and ended up with 250 in Mercer, Monmouth, Burlington and Somerset counties,” said Hughes, a beekeeper for nearly 40 years and a well-known member of the New Jersey Beekeepers Association.
Retired after working for 33 years at the former New Jersey Bell, Hughes was looking for something else to do.
But he never expected his hobby could become part of a big industry — New Jersey’s quickly growing craft brewery sector.
Honey beers are popular these days — as are locally sourced ingredients. All of which has helped others notice his small entrepreneurial endeavor at home, entitled Bob’s Buzzy Bees, in the rural part of Hamilton Township where Yardville gives way to Groveville.
“I sold and still occasionally do sell honey to a gentleman that sells brewing equipment at Princeton Homebrew in Trenton, and he in turn was friends with the people over at Triumph Brewery in Princeton,” Hughes said.
Now, Bob’s Buzzy Bees sells five-gallon buckets at around $180 apiece to Triumph Brewery for use on its home-grown food menu and honey-based brews.
“I know absolutely nothing about the brewing industry, but it provides me with pocket money,” Hughes said. “We have plenty of honey and I’m more than willing to take on new customers.”
The explosion of craft breweries in New Jersey over the last four years has done more than provide beer drinkers with an overwhelming variety of homegrown options: In addition to attracting other businesses and tourists, breweries have created surges throughout local economies and industries — particularly the agricultural industry — by partnering with members of the community, both big and small.
Michael Kane, founder and president of Kane Brewing Company in Ocean Township and vice president of the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild, finds it one of the most interesting things about brewing in New Jersey.
“There are so many great products grown or created here,” he said. “We (often) partner with local businesses to source our ingredients.
“We work with a local coffee roaster to make coffee beers; we work with a local beekeeper and the New Jersey Beekeepers Association to get honey for a beer we do in the summer; we use local apple cider for a beer we do in the fall; and, we committed early on to buying all of the hops from a grower who planted his first hops the same year we opened, which has allowed him to grow his acreage each year.
“We work with as many interesting and unique products that are made in New Jersey as much as possible. It creates unique flavors in the beer that we can’t get anywhere else. It’s about finding interesting opportunities to partner with local New Jersey businesses to help all of us grow.”
A strong passion for “local” creates an even stronger market, Eric Orlando, vice president of the Kaufman Zita Group in Trenton and government affairs representative for the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild, said.
“The craft brewing industry has increasingly tried to establish and capitalize on a connection with the agricultural industry in New Jersey,” Orlando said. “Craft beer connoisseurs are increasingly attracted to such products because you are usually getting a one-time brew.
Beer market for tourism
James J. McGovern III, partner, director of the labor law and alcohol and regulated products law practice groups at Genova Burns in Newark, believes the state can be doing more to market its potential in various industries when it comes to working with the breweries.
Much like Atlantic City has the “DO A.C.” marketing campaign, McGovern is suggesting the state creating a marketing platform around the breweries in the state.
“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. “We’ve got the Department of Agriculture, Made in Jersey, economic development, tourism — how do we play this up?
“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. Breweries will have a real impact on the Jersey economy.”
“There really has to be some attention given to the fact that it’s never only about the brewery — it’s about all of the businesses that feed into the brewery. Those businesses will succeed in that community if the brewery succeeds.”
Partnerships have even been forged between large companies and local breweries, such as Applegate Farms in Montclair and Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing Company in Cherry Hill.
“They produced a beer bratwurst using one of our witbiers, ‘What the Butler Saw,’” Jamie Queli, co-owner and operator of Forgotten Boardwalk Brewing Company, said.
And Demented Brewing Company in Middlesex has done its part for the community by donating spent grain to Born to Run Farm, a retired cow sanctuary in Glen Gardner.
It’s also looking at sourcing more locally grown hops, such as those grown at Oast House Hop Farm in Wrightstown.
Developed from a Kickstarter campaign four years ago, Oast House has three young owners — Beau Byrtus, Marylu Hansen and Art Rheahave — who have about an acre of hops in the ground and work with breweries such as Kane Brewing Company, Triumph Brewery, Demented Brewery and Screamin’ Hill Brewery in Cream Ridge.
“We have effectively doubled in size,” Byrtus said. “We now grow Centennial, Columbus, Chinook, Cascade and Nugget hops — we figured American-style hops were our best bet to get people to buy product, as they are common in American India pale ales.”
Byrtus said the demand in the market is never an issue, as Oast House Hop Farm has everything sold before it even picks one hop.
While Oast House Hop Farm is eager to provide whatever hops it has to whoever requests them, some partnerships thrive on exclusivity.
Take Rook Coffee in Oakhurst, for instance. What began as a 250-square-foot location has now expanded to almost 10 stores through Monmouth County — all due to the success of its high-quality coffee.
That’s a characteristic co-founder and operator Holly Migliaccio takes pride in sharing with Kane Brewing Company — the only brewery it provides coffee to.
“We’ve been approached by a number of breweries, but we like the exclusivity because we trust the quality of their product,” Migliaccio said. “Any time he uses coffee, it’s ours — and (Kane) knows he’s getting our product at its total peak, too.”
Kane Brewing Company typically purchases the Sumatra dark roast for its exclusive, limited-release Morning Bell brew, an award-winning imperial milk porter.
“People who love his beer end up loving our coffee,” Migliaccio said. “Simply aligning together has increased brand awareness for both of us.”
Providers of ingredients are also not the only ones to jump on the brewery bandwagon.
Christopher and Jessica Hyncik and Patrick and Stephanie Jefferys often traveled together to check out different breweries in and around New Jersey. As more and more breweries opened up, the friends knew it’d be a great industry to become a part of.
Last year, they each chipped in $2,500 to start Brewtiful Tours in Audubon.
“We provide safe transportation to and from breweries, as well as the planning and organizing of your (customized) trip,” Patrick Jefferys said. “We don’t own a vehicle of our own, so any tours that we do, we bring business to bus companies or rental companies by finding a vehicle through them.”
Tours are usually five to seven hours long and include between three and four breweries.
“Each tour has been different,” Patrick Jefferys said. “We have not listed the same breweries over and over again.”
Don Russell, executive director of the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild, said Brewtiful Tours is just one example of a small business opening up specifically due to the increasing presence of breweries in New Jersey.
“As you see more breweries open in New Jersey, you will see more demand for such companies,” Russell said. “It’s the sort of thing we love seeing — that the economic impact goes beyond the actual money you pay for the beer itself.”
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