2019 was another significant year for craft beer in New Jersey. Looking back it could be argued that this year was the biggest year of change since the statutes in New Jersey were changed to allow for limited license breweries to operate in the state, and it was not all good news. Here is a look back at our top 5 stories of 2019.
5. Hard Seltzer Is A Monster
As if craft beer didn’t already have a ton of competition from big beer, distilled spirits, and cannabis, hard seltzer absolutely killed it in 2019 and projections look like there is no end in sight. According to IWSR, a drinks marketing analytics company, this category is expected to triple by 2023 and is already larger in volume than Vodka, which is the leader in the spirits category.
All of the big beer companies are joining in with hard seltzers of their own and the launch of the Bud Light brand by AB Inbev is looming this month. It will be interesting to see what their huge marketing machine does with the product and how it affects the market numbers-wise.
Hard seltzers are far from a fad; they’re growing at a spectacular rate and increasingly, seltzer producers are pulling consumers from other beverage alcohol categories, not just beer.
~ Brandy Rand, COO of the Americas at IWSR Drinks Market Analysis
On the plus side, many breweries are now able to produce and make hard seltzer at the brewhouse and sell it in the taproom, and they are taking it seriously as part of their business plan. South Jersey Brewery Forgotten Boardwalk’s Jamié Sparked Seltzer won second place in America’s first Hard Seltzer Festival and Competition in Colorado in September and has the product out on store shelves all over New Jersey. We expect more of that to follow from New Jersey Breweries as 55% of the adult drinking population in the US consume hard seltzers at least once a week (as per the IWSR study). When we look back at 2020 next year, it will be very interesting to see what New Jersey Craft Breweries have entered the Hard Seltzer market.
4. South Jersey Brings Home 2 GABF Medals
Devil’s Creek brought home a silver in the Chili Beer Competition for “Bringing’ Da Heat”, and Cape May snagged the bronze in the Brown Porter category with “Honey Porter”. This is a highly competitive competition and is considered to be the biggest award in the industry and, year after year, New Jersey Breweries keep bringing home hardware. This is a testament to just how far craft beer has come in New Jersey and it is still relatively small compared with most states.
3. Governor Murphy and First Lady Host New Jersey Craft Beer Event at the Governor’s Mansion and Budweiser Was There.
Governor Phil Murphy and First Lady Tammy Murphy hosted a New Jersey Craft Beer Event at Drumthwacket in October (Editor’s Note: EIC and Founders John Couchoud and Tara Couchoud were invited guests at this event). There were over 20 Breweries represented from all over the state and the Governor took time to stop and talk to each one and try a sip or 2 of beer. During the reception, it was announced that New Jersey craft beer would be exclusively served at events and parties held at the mansion. First Lady Tammy Murphy said that “By featuring New Jersey beers at Drumthwacket, we are introducing New Jersey’s creativity, passion, and innovative spirit to all those who gather at the People’s House.”
The Governor also recognized Cape May Brewing Co. and Devil’s Creek Brewery on their recent GABF wins.
But the monster in the room for us was that Budweiser was represented at this “Craft” beer event. Now don’t get me wrong, this was a nice gesture by the Governor to recognize that craft beer is booming in New Jersey, but the fact that AB Inbev had representation at the event baffled us. They are the people trying to put all of the other craft breweries that were at the event out of business. And yes, I know that AB has the largest brewery in the state, and yes I am sure they probably contribute to the local economy, but don’t call this a craft beer event if it is not. We were not able to ask the Governor questions at the event, but I am curious as to whether Budweiser is one of the New Jersey craft beers that will be served at the mansion.
2. Brewery Openings and Closings
As of this writing, we are at 114 Breweries and 19 Brewpubs (As Per New Jersey Craft Beer) with about another 15-20 in various stages of the approval process that we expect to open in the next 12 months. One of the biggest events of the year was the opening of former contract brewer and fan favorite Bolero Snort’s facility in Carlstadt in December. But there was something this year that we haven’t seen much of over the last few years, a few breweries actually shut their doors. Nale House of Medford, Tomfoolery of Hammonton, Demented of Middlesex, and Common Sense of Bordentown all closed their doors in 2019 (Common Sense’s space has since reopened under new ownership as Tindall Road Brewery). Could this be the first signs that the industry is slowing down a bit? We don’t think so. Every market has businesses that shut down every year during the best of climates and the Craft Beer industry is no exception. New Jersey Craft Breweries are not only competing against each other, but also against big brands that are now distributing in New Jersey that were not here in 2018. Toppling Goliath, Surly, Lawson’s Finest, Foley Brothers, Equilibrium, and Prairie Artisan Ales are just a few that have entered an already crowded marketplace putting more stress on breweries to compete with large marketing machines with big budgets. This problem may be made harder with the regulations that New Jersey has imposed which brings us to the number one story…
1. New Jersey Releases new Special Ruling Defining Activities Permitted Under State’s Limited Brewery License
On May 28th acting ABC Director James Graziano announced the new rules that breweries in the state will need to follow. This ruling was the result of the large amount of backlash that the State heard after then ABC Director David Rible released his Special Ruling in September of 2018, which was subsequently suspended for further evaluation. The ruling once again caused an outpouring of protest from both consumers and brewery owners in the state. Although many of the elements of the 2018 ruling were walked back, there were several additions to the ruling. Some were to help with clarity on the older ruling, such as definitions of what constitutes an event. The ruling went as far as to tell you what the maximum size of a television that can be in the brewery and how many screens are allowed (65″ and 2, all other screens can only show brewery info). It also eliminated crowd funding, membership programs that offer free or discounted beverages to customers, no brewing or selling of coffee, or allow any pop up shops or craft shows at the licensed premises. It wasn’t all bad. The New Jersey Brewer’s Association released a statement that was mostly positive, but also asked for State Legislators to further clarify the ruling with the goal to have a permanent fix to the rules.
The Association believes that to accomplish this goal there are a number of fixes that could be made to prevent this type of piecemeal regulation, and calls on legislators to look at a comprehensive package of legislation that would protect the growing craft beverage industry in New Jersey. The only true, permanent fix is for the Legislature to clarify their own legislative intent in creating these retail consumption spaces, and to act to modernize the entire liquor license process in the state.
~ New Jersey Brewer’s Association
Will this be the final ruling or will we see something happen legislatively this year? We are certainly sure of one thing, this is not over yet. We will continue to follow this huge story in 2020 and beyond as the New Jersey craft beer industry continues to grow.
What were some of your favorite stories of 2019?