Beer-cation: Brewery Tourism in New Jersey

Izzo's Beer Bus is ready to take us to the next stop.

When Izzo’s Brew Bus offered to give Jersey Bites a spin in their 13-seat van, I couldn’t have been happier. My birthday was coming up and it’s hard to imagine a better way to celebrate. Even better, Izzo’s has no set routes, so I was able work with owner Zack Izzo and come up with a custom tour.

Custom Beer Route

We crafted a three-stop tour (you can do four as well) that included a peek at Carton Brewing’s new brew house and a couple breweries I hadn’t been to yet. Raritan Bay Brewing in Keansburg is in an historic brick building that has a cozy tap room and a surprising number of offerings despite its small size. In the heart of trendy downtown Red Bank, Red Tank Brewing has a sleek industrial vibe and an equally outstanding liquid lineup. The trip turned into a mini beer-cation and quite a memorable event for everyone.

Brewery Tourism in NJ, Jersey Bites, Pete Culos, Beer Bites
A tasting flight lined up at Raritan Bay Brewing in Keansburg

It also got me thinking about the state of beer tourism in New Jersey.

I have family up in Maine and I can tell you that beer played a big part in putting the lovely little city of Portland on the map (the Portland on the left coast is pretty good, too, I hear). So, what is Jersey doing to promote its burgeoning beer culture? Let’s take a look.

Tours to Note

First, there are entrepreneurial efforts such as Izzo’s Brew Bus. Tours are popping up throughout the state. The Jersey Shore Craft Beer Tour serves the beer rich Monmouth and Ocean county area while Brewtiful Tours covers South Jersey and Pennsylvania. The Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce launched the Surf ‘n Sip Brew Trail last year. You can follow the trail by app or map and stops include not just breweries but other businesses and cultural centers in the Long Beach Island area. Checking in at all the stops gets you a complimentary coozie and a grand prize raffle entry.

A Bill Brewing

There are signs that the New Jersey Legislature has begun to recognize the tourism value of the craft booze boon. NJ S3193 is a bill sponsored by Senator Jim Beach, which would create a “Brewery, Cidery, Distillery, and Meadery (BCDM) Trail Sign Program.” The bill further states “the Department of Transportation (DOT), in consultation with the Division of Travel and Tourism in the Department of Sate and the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control in the Department of Law and Public Safety, would create the BCDM Trail Sign Program.” That’s a lot of departments. The Council for the Arts might even get in on the act with an art competition for the signage. Ten years ago you couldn’t dream of a day when New Jersey would even consider putting up a sign to point you in the direction of a fresh pint. Progress indeed.

Will Travel for Beer

Dan Cooper, who runs the Jersey Shore Craft Beer Tour, tells me that while not a lot of his customers come from out of state yet, there are plenty who make the trek from North Jersey and often stay at the hotel commonly used as a pickup and drop off point. It seems that New Jerseyans are still discovering their own brewing community.

“Craft beer culture is all about tasting as many beers as possible in one sitting,” says Zack Izzo, co-owner of Izzo’s. “People like checking beer into their Untappd accounts. We allow them to do so safely.” These tour operators aren’t just chauffeurs, though. They are Cicerones in the true sense of the word. A person might try up 16 different beers on a four-stop bus tour. You’re going to need someone to guide you through that and help make sense of the experience. Tour guides jump start the conversation and educational aspect of brewery visits. They also make it fun, which is the whole point.

Brewery Tourism in NJ, Jersey Bites, Pete Culos, Beer Bites
The back of Izzo’s Brew Bus features artwork by owner Zack Izzo’s talented dad, Steve Izzo. Find him on Instagram: @finetoonin.

Beer tourism is just getting started in New Jersey. In a state where you could visit a new brewery every weekend and only see half of them in a year, there’s plenty left to explore.