HAMMONTON — Three beertenders on a recent Friday night at Vinyl Brewing Co. took turns giving tours to patrons before serving them one of nine craft beers on tap.
This western Atlantic County town is quickly growing a name for itself as a destination for craft brewers and beer lovers. With its opening in September, Vinyl Brewing Co. became the third microbrewery to open in Hammonton — part of a growing trend of microbreweries, wineries and distilleries opening not only in New Jersey, but nationwide.
In 2016, there were 82 microbreweries in the state, according to data from the Brewers Association, a nonprofit trade association. That’s a 61 percent increase from 2015.
Now there are 45 wineries registered with the Garden State Wine Growers Association and 16 licensed distilleries, said Donna Albano, associate professor of Hospitality and Tourism Management Studies in the School of Business at Stockton University.
Vinyl owners Susan Puentes, 55, of Hammonton, her husband, and nephew Jim Sacco decided on Christmas Eve 2015 they wanted to open their own business in downtown Hammonton.
Two years later, the family business is operating under a limited brewery license.
“We wanted to be the first town in New Jersey to have three breweries,” Susan Puentes said. “We want to help Hammonton grow.”
“I think having three breweries here helps bring tourism,” said brewer Sacco, 36. “We want to bring a lot of people from out of town to go visit all three breweries, and I think that’s what they’re doing.”
Vinyl Brewery customers come from places between Philadelphia and the shore. Customers said they come for the variety of beer and overall atmosphere.
Hammonton residents Rose and Dave Gruehn are Philadelphia transplants who visited the microbrewery on a recent Friday night. They want to support local brewing.
“When we moved to Hammonton, we wanted that brew experience,” said Rose Gruehn, 43.
“We’ve had that appreciation for craft breweries for a long time,” said Dave Gruehn, 51.
In Cape May County, visitors from across the state, Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware and Maryland flock to the Cape May Brewing Co. for its variety of beer. The 20-tap line is comprised of saisons and IPAs to porters, stouts and everything in between.
Cape May Brewing Co. began in 2011 and brewed 12 gallons at a time. At the time it opened, tasting rooms weren’t allowed, said CEO and co-founder Ryan Krill, 35, of Cape May.
A bill passed in 2012 allowed microbreweries to have tasting rooms and gave people the opportunity to visit the brewery.
“Ever since then, the amount of breweries has really skyrocketed,” Krill said.
Today, Cape May Brewing Co. is one of the largest production breweries in the state — and brews more in one day than it did in its entire first year, Krill said. It is a member of the New Jersey Brewers Association, of which Krill has been president for the past three years.
The New Jersey Brewers Association, formerly known as the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild, acts as a resource for breweries and helps them act as one voice in Trenton to talk about legislation.
Krill said New Jersey is the only state that mandates a tour of the brewery before beer can be sold for consumption in tasting rooms.
A bill has been introduced in the state Assembly and Senate to eliminate the tour, as well as to allow microbreweries to sell snacks, which state law currently prohibits.
“We’re very sensitive to bars, restaurants and liquor stores and beer wholesalers, because we’re all in this industry together. So what this bill would do, would really allow our tourists to have an experience that’s more in line with other states in the mid-Atlantic,” Krill said.
People are willing to travel to craft breweries, even those “off the beaten path type places,” because they want to have “unique and funky experiences,” Krill said.
Albano, who teaches career development, hospitality internship and wine fundamentals, took a sabbatical to study wine and travel for a course at Stockton, said she remains positive about the future of the “young industry” because of the state’s unique qualities.
“Our research has shown that visitors and residents alike are attracted to these uniquely authentic establishments and experiences, which allows consumers to bond with their brand,” Albano said.
“We see this as an emerging niche segment of New Jersey’s tourism industry called ‘beverage tourism,’ best described as traveling to experience places and activities where wine, beer, cider and craft spirits are produced,” she said.