Cape May Brewing's fourth anniversary this summer will find the brewery a veritable Goliath compared to the manikin beer-maker that once used air conditioners to climate-control a fermentation room and corny kegs to supply the lone local bar that wanted its debut pale ale on tap for the Independence Day holiday.
That was 2011, and a lot has changed from those days, several times over, in fact. But then Cape May has always been a changeling. It’s never been one to stand still – some of that out of necessity – even right after opening up in 1,500 square feet of garage-like space at the sprawling Cape May airport grounds.
There has always a version update with Cape May Brewing.
The most recent growth ring is the most dramatic and puts Cape May on course to hit 6,000 bbl production mark – double its past peak – and claim the No. 3 spot on the state’s craft beer volume leader board. (Flying Fish and River Horse Brewing are ahead of it.)
A new 30 bbl Premier Stainless Systems brewhouse, installed in a neighboring 15,000-square-foot building this spring, is leading that charge. It will step up the production pace with Cape May's flagship and signature brews, including a pair of IPAs and a honey porter that New Jersey’s ag department blessed with its “Jersey Fresh” imprimatur for the brewery’s use of a nearby apiary’s honey.
The bigger operation, co-founder Ryan Krill says, means extending the brewery’s distribution reach farther out in the state and growing the brand more efficiently with brews that resonate with the craft beer drinking public. (The brewery self-distributes in New Jersey, where its market is now concentrated in Cape May and Atlantic counties. Origlio Beverage distributes the brewery’s beers in the recently entered Philadelphia market.)
A 15-barrel brewhouse in service since 2013 at the startup location will stay put, Krill says. It gets the brewer’s playground job of making sour and wild ales, among other specialty brews. And, importantly, it offers the bulletproof cross-contamination safeguard of separate locations for Cape May’s “dirty” brews and its main production.
The 24-tap tasting room, with its 40-foot bar and gift shop space, is likewise staying at the smaller brewery and hanging on to the brewhouse tours. (Some tours will still be conducted at the larger brewery.) However, the eventual plan is to move the taproom and tours to the new building.
The new 30 bbl brewhouse was put into service in mid-May, busting out core labels Cape May IPA and Coastal Evacuation, an imperial IPA, in batch sizes double what they used to be just weeks ago.
Packaging side, the new facility also is home to a Meheen bottler (backed up with depalletizer, twist rinse and other add-ons) and a cold box that could house the Cape May Brewing Company from those four summers ago.
Back then, the brewery’s output wasn’t anything even the smallest of frat parties couldn’t handle. But then, the brewing rig made from three repurposed beer kegs – batch size, 12 gallons – was really about just getting licensed, getting the door open. It also said “hobby business,” especially to skeptics, whose numbers were matched by inspired homebrewers looking for an economical and manageable way to turn pro.
Cape May has been their touchstone, a case study for a number of breweries that have opened in New Jersey over the past couple of years.
But Cape May’s starter brewery – plastic fermenters, air-conditioned coldbox, and that brew sculpture, which has since been turned into a keg washer – was a passport to bigger things. Business baby steps (50-gallon batches) became more confident strides to bigger volume (4 bbl, would you believe?), and a sweet spot with the jump to the 15 bbl brewhouse. That helped nurture the widening demand for Cape May’s beers.
And it validated the idea of answering the brewery’s second anniversary by taking over a stinky, dilapidated, decades-empty building a couple of football fields away from home base, then spending a year-plus to construct yet another brewery, this time one way bigger than the last, but with a blueprint for tricking it out some more in the future.
Which, for Cape May, begins now.
The first Saturday in September brings a second festival for 2014 by the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild.
Brews By the Bay, set for Sept. 6, is also a bistate affair, with consecutive four-hour sessions at the ferry terminals in Cape May and Lewes, Delaware, and, depending on which event ticket you opt for, ferry passes that allow you spend your day sampling Jersey-brewed craft beers and those made by our neighbors across the bay.
What makes this event rather cool is, it’s a sendoff for summer that fits nicely in plans for a post-Labor Day weekend getaway in either state. Or you can go the far simpler route and just enjoy some craft beer sampling, à la festival.
Brews By the Bay is a spinoff of a festival on the Delaware side that has seen a good turnout over the two years it’s been held. To craft beer industry folks in both states, reshaping the Delaware fest into a bistate event seemed like a great way to build on the initial momentum. (It also gives the Garden State brewers guild a follow-up event to its annual June festival aboard the USS New Jersey on the Camden waterfront.)
To that end, Cape May Brewing co-owner Ryan Krill has been working with folks from Dogfish Head (and the Delaware Brewers Guild) who have run the Delaware event.
The result, Ryan says, is a fest where you can tailor your experience.
“You can buy a ticket for just one side – you can go to just Delaware or New Jersey. Or you can do both,” he says. “And how that works is, it includes a roundtrip foot-passenger ferry ticket.”
(It’s 60 bucks for both sessions; otherwise, it’s $40 for either the Jersey or Delaware sessions. Find tickets here. The Jersey-side event starts at noon, 4 p.m. in Delaware. As with festivals, the lineup can change. The Cape May-Lewes Ferry is also a sponsor.)
A sufficient number of ferries will be sailing during the hours of each session. So, catching a ride back to whichever side of the bay you need to be on shouldn’t be a problem. And there’s a good chance that at least one of the ferries will feature something craft-beery to do besides dolphin watching during the 17-mile, cross-bay cruise.
“We haven’t worked out the details of what we’re going to do on the boat yet, but we’ll probably have an event,” Ryan says.
Cape May Brewing’s big Belgian strong ale leads the brewery’s venture into 12-ounce bottles.
Folks at the brewery did a 90-case run of Devil’s Reach to get their feet wet with the Meheen bottler the brewery picked up last summer on the used equipment market. The 8.4% ABV brew, named for a narrow strait in Cape May Harbor, for now is limited to takeout sales of six-packs at the brewery.
There’s some technical stuff, i.e. check dissolved oxygen levels in the bottled beer, before it’s full speed ahead with the Meheen. (Oxygen, as we know, will turn beer stale and, thus, is a concern when bottling and canning.)
The strong ale and barleywine previously have been available in bomber bottles. Cape May IPA, the flagship beer Cape May Brewing launched with during the summer of 2011, previously has been available draft only.
Sometimes you have to use a little force.
Believing they could enrich their IPAs with more hop character, the folks at Cape May ditched conventional dry-hopping with whole-leaf hops, sacked up and hung in a conditioning tank.
To get the job done, Cape May's brew crew forces the beer over a heap of hops as the beer heads to its next stop. It's an exercise that borrows from Sierra Nevada's repertoire of brewing tricks, namely the storied California brewery's Hop Torpedo and subsequent beer, Torpedo Extra IPA.
The result: a bigger hop flavor, an epic aroma.
Every Monday enjoy half price wings* and $1 off all craft beers**, along with $3 featured craft drafts at the Washington Township location of The Village Pub. *Dine in only, to-go orders not included. **Some