As the snow was starting to melt in New Jersey thoughts of summer filled my mind. Summer always makes me think of vacation and vacation always makes me think of beer and the beach. Cape May is now a destination for both. As of 2012 Cape May has been the home of Cape May Brewing Company. Ryan Krill is the president of Cape May Brewing Co. and he took the time to speak with me about secret lairs, flying and how his brewery took Cape May by storm… but in the good way.
The Brewery – Cape May Brewery started with the question “where’s all the beer down here?”, meaning southern New Jersey, have you sufficiently answered that question?
Ryan Krill – (laughs) I’d say so. When we started in 2012 there were a total of ten or eleven production breweries in New Jersey. After we opened we realized why. The laws weren’t really all that favorable to production breweries. So we started with one employee and one account, Cabanas in Cape May, and we brewed twelve gallons at a time and that was it. We called ourselves a brewery.
You have to be brewing more than that now.
Today we brew on a fifteen-barrel brewhouse and a thirty-barrel brewhouse. We distribute in two states. We have over 230 wholesale accounts. And we have the largest and most accessible tasting room in the state. We offer at least fifteen beers, as of last weekend we had twenty one, plus homemade sodas for kiddies and that kind of thing. I’m not sure if we totally answered it because there are still places we’re not yet on draft because we don’t have the capacity or just haven’t gotten there yet. But we’re certainly trying.
You mentioned your tasting room is the largest and most accessible in New Jersey, is that overwhelming?
(laughs) It’s a lot of pressure. We’re not physically the largest, but because we have the most variety, tens out thousands of people come through a year and they all get four 4-ounce samples and a tour of the brewery. It’s definitely overwhelming to think how many people are getting to experience what we’ve started. It’s wild. Like I said, we started with one employee. We now have twenty. All of our fulltime employees have benefits. We have retirement plans, health benefits, all that kind of crazy stuff. It’s definitely a lot of pressure to be able to maintain consistency and keep everybody in the brewery happy.
It takes one look at your website to see that you guys aren’t just brewing beer, you’re brewing good times. Is every day awesome at Cape May Brewing Co.?
Oh man, it’s like varying degrees of awesome. It’s funny, I used to work in finance in New York City. I left my job to do this project because I wanted to work for myself and I love craft beer. It’s really unique because you can create something new and really be able to express yourself in a fun way. People are certainly accepting of that. It’s wild because I am not a brewer. We have brewers that will keep me involved in beer concepts. When we come up with new ideas, it’s a whole process for us. Doing fun creative events and wacky things at every level, so that’s really fun. But, I still have an office and sit in front of a computer and deal with HR, accounting and finance related items. So it’s not totally unlike my old job, the only difference is now I get to use a MAC instead of a PC.
So, if you had any advice for someone looking to open a brewery, what would it be?
It’s the advice that I got from other breweries. And I hear that others are starting to get the same advice, so it’s very true. If you’re going to open a brewery, you need to triple your budget. Do your best guess on getting a budget together, triple that. Then do your timeline, your Gantt chart and then double that. You need a lot of patience, determination and capital.
And a lot of beer no doubt, speaking of, your beer list is massive, but what Cape May offering is your favorite?
I would say our Coastal Evacuation is by far my favorite. I’m a hoppy kind of guy. That beer is all about the hops. We blast it with Centennial. In fact, we just won Silver at the Best of Craft Beer awards out in Bend, Oregon last month. Bend is like the home of all IPAs. For us to be able to place second out there is pretty legit. For some homeboys in New Jersey to be able to send some stuff out there and do well; I think that’s pretty telling. Everywhere we sell it, people go crazy for it. It’s definitely my favorite.
What’s your favorite non-traditional beer ingredient?
My favorite non-traditional beer ingredient… I like beach plums a lot. It’s a really unique berry that you get all along the coastal northeast. There are a lot of them here in Cape May. We get them from the Washington Inn, which is a famous restaurant in town. And they get them from growers before pressing them and making them into jams and jellies, and the bi-product they give to us. Otherwise, it would be thrown away. We take it and use it in one of our beers, which creates a really unique flavor. It’s like a mix between a blueberry and a cranberry. And it looks more like a cranberry with a big pit in the middle. But it’s really good. That goes really well in our beer.
Do you do any other work with farms in the area?
We do, absolutely. That’s like par for the course for us. All of our spent grain goes to a farmer just up the road from us. They take it to feed pigs and cattle. So, that all goes to good use. We use local honey. We have a honey porter that is the first beer in New Jersey to get the Jersey Fresh designation. We use ninety pounds of this local honey in every batch. And that’s extremely popular. It’s one of our most popular beers. So it’s really cool to get that designation. And then, we’re working with a big farm in South Jersey that’s going to start producing malt for us. So, malted wheat and malted barley. We’re going to get Jersey-sourced malt, which we’re going to start experimenting with. Then we’ll start producing some beers with it. It’ll be a cool opportunity to start showing off some Jersey stuff.
Does it surprise you how many breweries are popping up not only in New Jersey, but in the country?
It’s wild to see how many are popping up. I mean, we’re not that old, so I guess it’s hard for me to be like, “Well, way back when…” There are guys who have been doing this for way, way longer than I’ve even been alive. It’s interesting to see how many are opening up. Especially because the laws changed in 2012 in New Jersey to allow for tasting rooms, so that definitely gave folks more of an incentive. You can start a smaller brewery. However, it’s been a big battle trying to get the laws to continue to change or at least stay favorable. Something that I took on recently is, I’m the president of the Garden State Craft Brewer’s Guild. So we’re the voice of New Jersey breweries. Nearly every single brewery in New Jersey is a member. You have to be a brewery to be a member. We talk about anything from selling used equipment to legislative issues. It’s the part of the business that not really anybody knows about, but I think is the most interesting. We’re behind closed doors making things happen in New Jersey. All of us brewers are working hard and doing different events to raise money to make the laws more favorable for New Jersey. Ultimately it’s for the consumers.
And we thank you. Does the Guild meet in a secret lair in a castle somewhere?
(laughs) Exactly, we all come in wearing capes and robes and have a secret handshake. We actually meet every other month in one of the breweries and we discuss all the stuff that’s relating to us.
Speaking of capes, Cape May is billed as the country’s first vacation spot, where would your dream vacation be?
Any place warm right now! I am sick of seeing the entire Cape May harbor frozen right now. It’s gnarly.
If you find a way out, let me know.
We’re located at an airport down here in Cape May. We’re right next to it, and I fly a lot. I have a little plane that I rent. It’s called a Piper Dakota. I’ll fly that a lot to meetings with the Guild or if I have a meeting in Philly with one of our distributors. So I’ll take that puppy up there. I met with a distributor a long time ago at a Phillies game. And I flew to the Phillies game and the distributor was like “How was traffic?” and I was like “Oh, it was great, took me ten minutes to get here from Cape May.” (laughs)
You’ll have to pick me up in Teterboro some time and fly me down to Cape May.
Dude, any excuse to fly!
Does it go without saying all of your offerings are “shore” to please?
(Groans) We make all of our beer as though we have to drink it ourselves.
What’s next for Cape May Brewing Co.?
So, we’re completing a big expansion. When we started we had 1500sq. feet of space, which we’ve expanded to occupy 5000sq. feet of space and we’re maxed out. And we’re completing an expansion into a 15,000sq. foot facility at the airport. That will increase our capacity up to about 15,000 barrels a year. We’re completing the install of our 30-barrel brewhouse. We’ll have two brewhouses which is really cool. So, technically we own two production breweries in the state of New Jersey. I think we’re the only one in New Jersey who can say that.
Many thanks to Ryan for sharing his story and some information about Cape May Brewing Co., his time is definitely appreciated. I hope all of you regulars clear your calendars and take a weekend in Cape May this year. While you are down there, drop in to see Ryan and crew and check out their tasting room. I have a sneaking suspicion the tasting room will be open whenever you get down there. Cheers!