LOWER TOWNSHIP — The Cape May Brewing Co. has been making and pouring more beer since it opened 18 months ago in a 1,500-square-foot space at the Cape May Airport complex.
The beer-making venture of 2005 Villanova University graduates Ryan Krill and Chris Henke now occupies triple the space and a tap room.
And it is preparing to double production this year to more than 31,000 gallons of India pale ale, stout, honey porter, cranberry wheat and other varieties.
“We’re not trying to be the next Budweiser. We’re trying to help put New Jersey on the map for really good beer,” said Krill, 30, who owns the business with Henke, 29, and Krill’s father, Bob, 66.
The brewery benefited from a change in state law last year that allows it to serve a pint of beer with a tour instead of a small sample, he said.
More breweries have popped up as the popularity of these craft beers grows.
The number of U.S. breweries grew almost 20 percent since June 2011, according to the Brewers Associa-tion, a trade group representing craft brewers, a definition of small and independent breweries.
Craft brewers represent about one-tenth of U.S. beer sales in dollars, the association said.
Major players such as Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors occupy most of the market, and Krill sees them as more competition than other craft brewers like himself.
“There’s so much room to expand for all of us,” he said. “We’re all competing for a spot on the tap.”
Some of the brewery’s expected growth this year will be selling more kegs wholesale to more bars. The company’s beer is sold at 23 locations in the southern half of Cape May County.
Also, a bulk of retail sales are from on-site sales of 64-ounce refillable growlers for $10, plus $10 for the glass.
The brewery does not make or sell six-packs, but it is planning to bottle some 22-ounce specialty beers to sell at liquor stores.
“That will extend our reach a little bit and pique people’s interest in our brewery, so when they come down in the spring and summer, they might stop by,” he said. “We’re reaching out slowly and learning the business more.”
Krill and Henke came into the business with home-brewing experience and knowledge from their prior careers — Krill in commercial finance, Henke in engineering with Lockheed Martin.
Their research led them to breweries to ask questions and advice.
“We’d ask, ‘How much does it cost?’ They’d say, ‘It takes twice as long as you think and will cost twice as much.’ And they were all exactly right,” said Krill, who now gives similar advice to those who ask him about starting a brewery.
“We joked that if we wrote a book about it, we’d call it, ‘Figure it out.’ Because every step of the way, there was something new to navigate. How many people are experts on starting breweries?”
Krill said it took a year of planning for the brewery to open in July 2011.
“We didn’t have a $1 million budget from some venture capitalist. We were just two reasonably intelligent people and said let’s give it a stab and see what becomes of it,” he said. “It started as a hobby, and now it’s a full-fledged business.”
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