Recently, I took a drive up to Maine to visit family and, while I was there, I capitalized on the opportunity to visit a few of the many Portland-area breweries. It has been many years since my first visit to Maine Beer Company, and back then, its tiny taproom was perched overlooking the brewery and warehouse. These days, that warehouse is itself part of the tasting experience, complete with sleek decor and a large and somewhat curious fountain.
Worth 1,000 Words
I noticed something else as well. Everyone was taking photos. Cell phones were out as visitors snapped selfies, panoramas, and videos to document their visits and to populate social media accounts everywhere. Employees jammed bottles of liquid souvenirs into boxes as smiling visitors flashed debit cards on their way out. It was beer Disney World. Clearly, Maine Beer Company is set up for as many tourists as possible to move through its space each day.
On the long drive home, I wondered, “Will New Jersey ever become a beer tourism destination?”
Moving in the Right Direction
Serendipitously, just a few days after my return to New Jersey, I learned that a bill had been introduced to create a New Jersey Craft Beer Trail to promote Garden State craft breweries. On September 24, Governor Murphy signed Bill A-1091 into law. The bill, also sponsored by NJBIA, was sponsored by Assemblywomen Carol Murphy (D-7) and Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), Senator Steven Oroho and Assemblyman Hal Wirths (R-24), and Senator James Beach (D-6).
Assemblyman Wirths, of Sussex County, told me, “ I enjoy all different types of beers and we are fortunate that we have some great microbrews in my district. I was interested in doing something to help this industry. Our Jersey wineries have a very successful wine trail program, so why not do it for our Jersey-brewed beers?”
I could not agree more. The growth of the craft beer industry over recent years has been an economic good news story here in the Garden State. In 2011, fewer than 30 breweries populated the state. Now that number has surpassed 130. According to the Brewers Association, we rank 20th in the nation in the number of breweries but only 44th in the number of breweries per capita (two per 100,000 people over 21 years of age). The potential for continued growth is huge.
This new beer trail is the responsibility of the New Jersey State Division of Travel and Tourism. After reaching out to them for some more details, I was surprised to learn that they already have the trail plotted on their website. That’s encouraging! It’s located on the division’s website, VisitNJ.org, and while it’s tough to find without a direct link, simply typing “beer” in the search bar will lead you to it.
The site is categorized geographically into North, Central, and Southern New Jersey. (There is a Central New Jersey, after all!) and topically by beer, wine, and distilleries. All the breweries for each region are listed with links, phone connections, and are plotted on Google maps. All the information is right there, except for one thing: the actual trail.
All of this news is fantastic, but we know that a list of breweries does not a beer trail make. It’s not a simple case of “If you build it they will come.” A September 24 press release about the signing of the brewery trail bill mentions that “at least three breweries would be linked in a vacation itinerary that would identify nearby restaurants, lodging, arts and cultural attractions and more on an interactive website.”
Clearly there is more work to do. I asked Assemblyman Wirths if he intended to stay involved in the development. “Absolutely,” he said. “I can’t wait to tour a trail myself!” Frankly, neither can I. I think New Jersey has a real opportunity to get on the regional beer map. Here are few of my thoughts:
In case you weren’t aware, Grand Rapids, MI, is known as Beer City and they have an app to prove it. The Beer City Brewsader app offers guided tours of Grand Rapids and gives you access to hotel beer packages. You can even ride a party bike or trolley. It’s a one-stop shop for a beer tourist.
The Maine beer trail offers a mobile-friendly website where you can filter by options and regions. Is food available? Is it near the beach? Then select individual breweries to create your own itinerary and map. If you create an account, you can “stamp” your pass with each brewery’s four-digit code. Visit a minimum of 25 breweries to start winning prizes from the state’s brewers guild.
Breweries often lean on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to promote their beer. Obviously, these would be great places to promote the beer trails. Perhaps less obvious, at least to the Division of Travel and Tourism, would be beer-related apps like Untappd. On this app, users can rate beer, connect with each other, and find great beer. Untappd also offers businesses advertising and promotional opportunities. Other state beer trails show up there so why not New Jersey?
Ask Hunterdon County
What better way to experience the rural beauty of Hunterdon County than by exploring their beer trail? Check it out here and then grab a passport to get started.
It is refreshing to see New Jersey’s government giving its craft beer industry some love. And there’s more to come. “There is a bill to allow craft distilleries to continue to sell mixed drinks to go as well as allow microbreweries the ability to deliver beer,” said Assemblyman Wirths. “These delivery privileges would also extend to most liquor license holders: bars, restaurants, liquor stores.” That bill, S-3915 (also A5848), was voted on in the State Senate in early December. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to contact your Assemblyman to voice your support now!
I’ll see you on the trail!