It cost an extra dollar to buy a cup of one of the five craft beers for sale at the Cape May Craft Beer & Crab Festival, but by noon Saturday, the line was 15 people long and the two people on duty couldn’t serve patrons fast enough.
Any of them could have walked over to the wide-open Budweiser tap, but no one did.
That line shows the growing interest in craft beers, an interest New Jersey is seeking to tap into.
Gov. Chris Christie is expected to take action later this month on a bill that would liberalize some of the state’s beer laws. It would allow small brewpubs such as Atlantic City’s Tun Tavern to more than triple their output to 10,000 barrels per year, while raising the number of brewpubs they can operate from two to 10. The bill also allows small breweries to increase their output from 300,000 barrels per year to 500,000, while selling to the public at their facilities.
The move comes as the Brewers Association reported this month that there are 2,126 craft breweries in the United States, the most in 125 years, with more than 1,200 planned.
“Beer-passionate Americans are opening breweries at a rate faster than at any time since the day of Prohibition,” said Paul Gatza, Brewers Association director.
The Garden State Brewers Guild, a trade group, said New Jersey ranks 32nd in craft beer production, behind Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware, which are respectively second, seventh and 17th in production.
Jim McAfee, 39, is one of the four partners at the Tuckahoe Brewing Co. in Ocean View. They have been in business since December, and McAfee said their goal is to get their beer out to as many people as possible. They make 220 gallons of beer a week, distributed to 30 area restaurants and bars.
The festival Saturday sold Tuckahoe Brewing’s Marshallville Wit, a lightly spiced, white Belgian ale. The company has made four beers in a range of styles and is working on a pumpkin ale.
McAfee said he viewed the beer legislation favorably. Patrons have always been able to buy beer from the brewery after they took a tour, he said.
“People come in and want a growler (64-ounce resealable glass jug of beer), and they have to take a tour,” he said while setting up the brewery’s table at the Cape May festival, adding that the law before the governor “may change how we are getting out there to the public.”
Patrons at the festival, already fans of craft beer, said they liked the proposal.
“I think it’s great for the state to encourage small business,” said Bob Lamendola, 68, of Cape May, as he drank Long Island-based Blue Point Brewing Co.’s Toasted Lager. “It’s so difficult to get into the big markets.”
Laura Baggs, 30, and Patrick Lynott, 31, drove from Summit, Union County, for the festival after hearing that Downingtown, Pa.-based Victory Brewing Co. would take part, Lynott said. Baggs said she likes the bill and generally supports any proposal that would make it easier to sell craft beer.
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