- Associated Press - Saturday, December 9, 2017

MOUNT OLIVE, N.J. (AP) - Jersey Girl showed it can stand out in a “crowded” field of new breweries as it took home the Emerging Business of the Year distinction from the New Jersey Brewer’s Association’s NJBIZ annual award event.

Open since April 2016, Jersey Girl is showing with hard work, knowledge and a passion for the craft, running a brewery can be a great small business opportunity in New Jersey.

Charles Aaron, who opened the brewery with co-owner Mike Bigger said it’s “great” to be called the best emerging business. “We’re trying to emerge in a crowded market. Throw a stone and you’ll hit 10 breweries.”

Jersey Girl has spent the months since opening to grow into its 10,000-square-foot facility on Sand Shore Road in Mount Olive distributing beer to restaurants and bars statewide while also canning and bottling some of their most in-demand selections.

They’ve also hosted events and fundraisers while maintaining a popular tasting room. They are part of a Hackettstown brew trail that also features Man Skirt Brewing and Czig Meister Brewing, both of which opened within a year of Jersey Girl and have continued to grow in size and reputation, making the small section of northwest New Jersey a destination for beer lovers.

Monday’s honors were just the latest in a string of accolades Jersey Girl has recently received. In October, the brewery was a finalist for the New Jersey Manufacturing Awards Startup Manufacturer of the Year, an award that Cape May Brewing won in 2016. At the Prudential Center in Newark, Jersey Girl is now the top-selling craft beer.

Aaron said Jersey Girl will be available in all 21 New Jersey counties by the spring 2018.

In a time when more than half of small business startups fail within their first five years, craft beer is proving to be an exception.

The U.S. Brewers Association, comprised of small independent craft brewers, now counts more than 4,100 members. 46,000 more belong to the American Homebrewers Association.

The number of U.S. Breweries in 2016 was 5,301, up from 4,548 in 2015. 5,234 of those were craft breweries.

Craft beer consumption is on the rise while overall beer sales remain flat. In 2016, craft beer sales increased by 6.2 percent, 12.3 percent of the entire U.S. beer market, according to the Brewers Association. The growth was specifically for microbreweries, as opposed to larger craft options that have multiple brewing operations in the country. Nearly 25 million barrels of craft beer were produced in 2016, up from about 13 million in 2012.

The overall U.S. beer market based on 2016 sales was valued at 107.6 billion, with craft beer taking $23.5 billion of the pie. That was a year-over-year increase of 10 percent for the retail dollar sales of craft beer.

Since New Jersey’s beer laws changed in 2012, permitting breweries to sell beer on premise, the number of craft breweries in the state have exploded.

While shore standouts Kane and Carton tend to get the most fanfare from out-of-state beer nerds, northern New Jersey is quickly making a name for itself.

In addition to Jersey Girl, Man Skirt, and Czig Meister, Chatham’s Twin Elephant, Lafayette’s Angry Erik, and Fairfield’s Magnify with lines forming outside its door for can releases, have opened to great fanfare.

They join mainstays of the region Fairfield’s Cricket Hill and High Point in Butler, as well as the Long Valley Brew Pub in Washington Township and Krogh’s Brew Pub in Sparta, which have all been around prior to the 2012 law change.

There are now 82 craft breweries in New Jersey, 19th most in the country, producing more than 111,000 barrels of craft beer each year. In 2013, the year after the laws changed, that number was at 26.

With more than a dozen more currently in development, a growing community of homebrewers and craft beer lovers are lining up to try them all. Wild Bones Brewing in Morristown, Fort Nonsense Brewing in Denville, and Krogh’s Brewing Company in Newton are just a few local spots set to open in 2018.

“It’s an example of not only sustainability of the business but also the market and what is happening with craft beer at the moment,” Aaron said. “There’s still so much room for breweries to open in New Jersey.”

After opening in April 2016, Jersey Girl took on a distributor that summer. They now have three, one for north, central, and south Jersey.

Aaron said he was happy Jersey Girl locked in distribution. While there is a demand for craft beer in New Jersey, distributors can only carry so many.

Aaron said strong branding helps Jersey Girl stand out among the crowd.

The Jersey Girl name, Aaron said, “is the reason why we get in the door.” He said customers may not know the name, but will think, “I like Jersey Girls.”

The brewer’s goal is to be Jersey-centric, Aaron said. “There’s enough of a market in New Jersey to sustain a growth curve for the next five to 10 years and become the state beer.”

Jersey Girl is widely available in Morris, Sussex, and Warren counties, but it is developing a strong following throughout the state, particularly north of Jersey City, Hoboken, and at Newark’s Prudential Center, Aaron said. He plans to collaborate with the New Jersey Devils hockey team on a Jersey Girl pilsner available for their home games.

The brewery has expanded on the 30-barrel brew house it started with. Now it is able to brew 14,000 gallons at one time, and still have room in its Sand Shore Road building. The brewery started with five employees and has grown to 12. It has brewed about 90 batches so far in the first year and a half, though the volume per cycle has increased since the start.

“When we started we weren’t filling our tanks all the way,” Aaron said. “Now we they are full.”

When the business began canning, it produced about 2,000 at a time. Now it cans 20,000 per month. Some of Jersey Girl’s most popular beers are for sale in bottles and cans, available at the tasting room and in liquor stores.

Merchandising is another major avenue for revenue.

“We’ve learned the art of selling the swag,” Aaron said. “Last year for the holidays we had one black t-shirt, glasses, and growlers for sale. We didn’t have the cash flow for more products.”

In spite of the growth and success of breweries, they have hurdles to overcome as New Jersey does not allow them to sell food on site or distribute their beer at farmers markets. As part of their membership to the Brewers Association, breweries generally do not feature TVs in their tasting rooms, preventing competition with restaurants and bars.

Changes to any of those laws will make brewery ownership more enticing.

According to the Brewers Association, 596 microbreweries opened in 2016, while 52 closed. The trend has trended slightly down the past three years, or at least flattened out. In 2015, 609 microbreweries opened and 38 closed. In 2014, 632 opened, with 42 closing.

Will the brewery bubble in New Jersey pop soon?

“The bubble will only burst if the cash is gone. Not because of market demand,” Aaron said. “There is plenty more of New Jersey’s beer market to be seized. And if you’re doing well enough and there’s no more room to grow in New Jersey? Then cross over the border.”

And while Jersey Girl is ahead of the five-year envisioned plan, Aaron said he and business partner Bigger think there is still more progress to be made.

“There’s still nervous energy. Every time you open the tasting room you wonder if any people will come. When you can a new beer you wonder if anyone will buy it,” Aaron said. “

At the end of the day though, it’s not about the distribution deals or the number of shirts sold, Aaron said, adding it’s the beer that matters about all else.

“It’s all about the beer. We’re in the beer business,” Aaron said. “Product is number one and quality is what we focus on. If we don’t have beer we don’t have anything.”

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Online: http://dailyre.co/2BiuEzB

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Information from: Daily Record (Parsippany, N.J.), http://www.dailyrecord.com


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