LOWER TOWNSHIP — Republican state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. wants to put beer on the same lofty level as wines, and says he has bipartisan support to do it.
Kean, R-Union, Somerset, Morris, jumpstarted the microbrewery industry in New Jersey in 2012 with legislation that allowed craft breweries to produce more barrels and sell at more locations. The state had fewer than 20 craft breweries back then, and now has 36, with about 20 more license applications being processed.
Kean, on a Tuesday tour of the Cape May Brewing Company, is now pushing three more bills to further help the growing craft beer industry. One would permit local breweries to sell their brews at farm markets; a second allows food to be sold at microbreweries; and the third allows the brews to be sold in other states. The bills give beer some of the same advantages New Jersey wines have enjoyed.
The Senate Republican leader said Democrats have signed on as sponsors for all three bills in both the Senate and the Assembly.
“I’ve found beer to be bipartisan,” Kean said as he toured the brewery with owner Ryan Krill.
Kean noted that local vineyards sell their wine at farm markets in towns that do not prohibit alcohol, and he wants beer included. He also wants those beers being distributed in New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Food with a cold beer just makes sense, though there has been some opposition from the restaurant industry.
“We’re trying to complete and expand what we started. These are the next logical steps, filling in the gaps. My goal is to have New Jersey one of the lead states in this area because it creates jobs, economic opportunity and innovation,” said Kean.
Krill noted his brewery had one employee and was brewing just 12 gallons of beer at a time before Kean’s 2012 legislation.
“As a result of Senator Kean’s bill, we now have 37 employees and all have full benefits and a 401-K,” said Krill.
Eric Orlando of the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild said the three bills would “continue the upward trend” and put breweries on a “similar trajectory as the wineries.” Orlando, however, noted the state still ranks only 29th in the nation within the craft beer industry.
Orlando said they are promoting the link to farms with some brews. He noted some are experimenting by growing their own hops in New Jersey. Cape May Brewing uses locally grown fruits and honey in its brews.