NJ Brewers Hope New Trails Law Is Just a Start

While brewers appreciate the legislation passed this fall, many are anxious for more extensive industry reform.

Departed Soles, located in Jersey City, is one of the many breweries that can be found on the state's new site promoting brewery trails. Courtesy of Matt Potenski

Craft-beer lovers now have help navigating the Garden State’s burgeoning brewery scene.

The state’s Division of Travel and Tourism website recently started offering brewery locations alongside vacation itineraries and day-trip ideas. The routes are shown as a map divided into three regions—North, Central and South—to make it easier for potential visitors to chart a course.

“People love breweries. They love craft beers,” says Assemblywoman Carol Murphy (D-Mount Laurel), a primary sponsor of a bill signed into law this fall requiring the creation of at least three brewery trails. “People want to be part of their community again, and breweries and pubs…give them the ability to be part of their community.”

Breweries were considered for inclusion based on their proximity to other breweries and surrounding destinations pertaining to art, culture, history and entertainment, among other tourist attractions. Up north, that could mean brewery-hopping before a Jets or Giants game. Down the Shore, beer drinkers will know exactly where to kick back after a beach day.

Carlstadt's Bolero Snort Brewery

Home delivery is an important issue for Carlstadt’s Bolero Snort Brewery. Photo courtesy of Bolero Snort Brewery

There are a total of 131 breweries and 22 brewpubs in Jersey, per New Jersey Craft Beer. The industry has bubbled up across the country in recent years, contributing $33.9 billion and 360,000 jobs to the United States economy, according to Bill A-1091, which was signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy on September 24. Craft beer created 8,565 “full-time equivalent” jobs in New Jersey in 2012, and the industry has grown exponentially since.

While brewers appreciate the legislation, some hope it opens the door to address issues such as home delivery of alcohol­—which has been permitted during the pandemic—and the requirement that patrons receive a tour prior to being served.

“Hopefully, this is just the tip of the iceberg in…making New Jersey a little smoother and easier for us small guys out there,” says Brian Kulbacki, founder and head brewer of Jersey City’s Departed Soles Brewing Company.

[RELATED: An Insider’s Guide to 25 New Jersey Distilleries]

Scott Wells, a co-owner and the director of sales at Bolero Snort Brewery in Carlstadt, calls home delivery a “far more important and valuable” issue, while Joe Delcalzo, a co-founder at Brix City Brewing in Little Ferry, adds, “The fact that we still have to give a mandatory tour is absolutely insane. The fact that we’re still arguing this point years later is crazy to me.

“We need to reform the liquor laws to make it more hospitable for breweries instead of making it more difficult.”

But Kulbacki noted the challenges of getting anything accomplished in the state’s “liquor-sphere” due to license holders, while Delcalzo made similar complaints about New Jersey’s liquor lobby politics.

“This is what the state’s famous for doing with us. We have some really, really pressing issues, and they throw us, like, a Snickers. ‘Oh, here you go,’” Delcalzo says, though he mentions the trails will bring “free exposure and advertising” for the establishments selected.

Wells echoes similar frustrations, but he acknowledges that anything that supports Jersey’s still “infantile” craft beer scene is a “win.” He just hopes the trails law will put the state on a more supportive path when it comes to its breweries.

“This is a good step forward from our legislature on doing something to highlight craft brewing in our state,” he says, “and I hope that this opens the door to them helping work with us on the bigger issues that have presented themselves since COVID hit.”

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