Home brewers

Tap-It Homebrew Supply Owner Shawn Grigus places an 8-gallon brew kettle with ball valve on display at his Egg Harbor City store. Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ben Fogletto

Ask a group of people who make beer or wine at home how they feel about no longer needing a state permit to do so, and at least a few might answer with a question of their own:

"I needed to get a permit?"

Little-noticed in the stack of last-minute bills that Gov. Chris Christie signed in the beginning of January was one that eliminated the requirement of a $15 permit for the home production of beer and wine for personal consumption.

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Several thousand people in the state got the permits each year, but many more would not. It was not as if the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control searched homes to enforce the law, so many people chose to ignore it.

"I think it's unnecessary to put a citizen through that process," said Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, a primary sponsor of the law.

"Most people didn't know about it, and if they did know about it, they said, ‘I'm not doing that,'" said Jeff Linkous, of Little Egg Harbor Township, who writes about the state's craft beer industry on his website, BeerStainedLetter.com.

As Linkous recounts, the permit requirement was a legislative trade-off that dated to 1991, when the state amended its laws and allowed for home brewing. It allowed people older than 21 to make as much as 200 gallons a year of wine or malt alcoholic beverages.

In analyzing the financial impact of no longer requiring the permit, the state Office of Legislative Services cited unofficial numbers that 2,194 permits were issued for wine and beer making in 2010.

Many of those licenses went to wine schools, such as Gino's School of Wine in Hammonton, which had its students get permits before making wine at the facility. Stores that sell beer-making materials also had customers get permits if they were taking on-site brewing courses.

Today there seems to be far more home beer makers than wine makers, as home brewing clubs are located all over the state. A batch of beer can also be made in a few weeks to a month, whereas wine can take months or years.

Shawn Grigus, owner of Tap It Homebrew Supply Shop in Egg Harbor City, said his small business on Philadelphia Avenue has received tremendous interest from throughout the state since he opened in 2010.

He also started a home brewing club - Brew Jersey Home Brewers Club - that has about 20 members.

"It's becoming more of a social event," he said about the club's regular meetings. "It's about the general appreciation of craft beers."

Grigus brewed for years at his home in Hamilton Township and said he saw a need in the region for a store that sold the type of equipment needed for both wine and beer making.

When he opened, the first dollar came from his friend Jason Stairs, of Galloway Township, who had dabbled in making mead and apple wine before beer. He said he has so far made a variety of flavored brews, such as pumpkin ales and peach beer.

"I like to make stuff that you can't buy," he said. "The fun is in the experimenting, and in this case you get to try your experiment."

From a beer-making standpoint, advocates believe a lot remains to be done to foster the industry. A few other bills introduced in the last legislative session to benefit breweries in the state were never voted upon by the full Legislature.

One would have increased production limitations and loosened other restrictions on certain breweries, but it never left the Law and Public Safety committee in either house.

Two other bills sponsored by Assemblywoman Celeste Riley, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, also stalled in committee. One would have allowed breweries to sell directly to customers - which current licenses restrict - and another would have created a new license for farm breweries.

But there is a push to try to welcome a growing market and interest in craft beer making. A number of breweries have opened recently, including the Cape May Brewing Company in Lower Township and the Tuckahoe Brewing Company in Dennis Township.

At least two others in South Jersey - Turtle Stone Brewing Company and Pinelands Brewing Company - also are expected to open this year.

Linkous said the repeal of the permit is just another sign that the craft beer industry is growing in popularity and acceptance.

"Today's home brewer is tomorrow's professional brewer," he said. "There are very few breweries where the person who started it didn't homebrew first."

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