The Independent Craft Brewers of New Jersey is a cooperative partnership founded by New Jersey Craft Brewery owners in the summer and fall of 2018. Our group is not a trade association or political lobby, but a peer-moderated industry forum with a mission to promote and support the growing Craft Beer market for New Jersey.
Before 2012, our state was ranked 48 out of 50 for breweries per capita and lagged behind every neighboring state in both the growth of production and culture that surrounds craft throughout the country. In 2012, the New Jersey Legislature passed S-641/A-1277 (which became law in NJSA 33:1-10(1)(b) and is known as the “2012 Amendment”) – this legislation made it possible for license holders to sell beer for consumption on premises in conjunction with a tour and allowed breweries the tools to build their brands in a competitive manner to out-of-state producers.
It was a revolution for New Jersey Craft Beer.
By 2016, the number of breweries within our state doubled to 50 and within two years in 2018 would double again to nearly 100 craft breweries. As exciting as this growth has become for craft beer fans, consumers, and brewers within New Jersey – we continue to lag behind other states due to regulatory and legislative restrictions. Breweries in New Jersey range from the tiniest nanobrewery producing beer at a 1/2 barrel (BBL) scale (approx. 15 gallons per batch) to larger craft producers at a scale of 50 barrels and above (1,550 gallons per batch). In between these extremes are breweries setup in industrial parks, along Main Streets, within historic sites, located at local landmarks, and even out at farms where their ingredients are grown. New Jersey has developed one of the most unique craft beer “scenes” and cultures thanks to this variety than can be found almost anywhere else in the world.
In 2018, State Regulators at the New Jersey Division of Alcohol Beverage Control (NJABC) began discussing new regulations or administrative directives to apply to the growing Craft Breweries within our state. Since the explosive growth of 2012, there was a strain on existing systems setup for 20 brewers that now served 50-100 brewers. Unfortunately, larger multinational beer producers with special interests in New Jersey as well as retailers aligned with these organizations opposed allowing elements in the beer industry that are common and reasonable in most other states.
These special interests lobbied for restrictions that would roll back six years of progress and growth to 2012 and before and found themselves taking up “half of the table” in discussions about an industry they wished to suppress. Brewers, their trade associations, and supporters met with Regulators to help find a balance – but even after special directives were released, it did not reflect the common industry practices and reasonable expectations of both public consumers and craft beer producers (especially in comparison to surrounding states such as Pennsylvania, New York, and Delaware).
Even Six Years after the 2012 Amendment, the biggest obstacles to New Jersey Brewers lay in Trenton and not in the Marketplace.
During the spring of 2018, a group of “Main Street” breweries began communicating to try and develop a common strategy to support each other in both weathering the impact of the pending regulatory directives as well as working with local, county, and state legislators to develop an updated solution to keep New Jersey Craft Beer growing strongly. In July 2018, these brewers met with regulators to attempt to have input into the process as well as provide feedback on the expected public reaction to heavy restrictions on craft brewers. Unfortunately, this meeting did not factor into the final process heavily and in September 2018, the administrative directive (known as the “Special Ruling”) was released and immediately met with strong public, industry, and legislative opposition.
The “Main Street” breweries behind that July 2018 meeting; Death of the Fox Brewing Company, Human Village Brewing Co., Lower Forge Brewery, King’s Road Brewing Company, and Zed’s Beer; formed the core of the Independent Craft Brewers of New Jersey and provided a forum to breweries throughout New Jersey to help solve the regulatory issues and other hurdles facing us. The two larger trade associations that include a large number of in-state breweries, the New Jersey Brewers Association and the Brewers Guild of New Jersey, were held back in their response to the “Special Ruling” as they continued to work in negotiations with regulators – which allowed our forum to assume a leadership role in developing and sharing a Petition to Suspend the Special Ruling.
In under one month, thirty thousand members of the public signed our petition and the Special Ruling was suspended within the first week of implementation. Our forum, together with the leaders of our industry trade associations, was able to educate and galvanize the public in support of New Jersey Breweries. Now, our role continues, to promote and support the in-state craft beer breweries and industry partners in any way we can – including working with legislators on industry reform; educating the public; providing a common forum for members of either the NJBA or BGNJ (as well as breweries not affiliated with either group); and exploring new ways to keep our local craft beer production growing strongly.