LOWER TOWNSHIP – New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher came to the Cape May Brewing Company on May 20 to taste their new “Beets By May” beer.

He said his office became aware of efforts by Cape May Brewing to create a beer using Jersey Fresh beets and he came down to help them launch the new creation.

“This is an amazing combination of agricultural enterprises in the state,” Fisher said.

Fisher said the Department of Agriculture is constantly on the lookout for businesses to highlight, whether they grow Jersey Fresh produce or seafood. He said there are about 150 farm markers featuring Jersey Fresh products and each is unique.

“Some feature educational aspects, they are on different days of the week, and offer a variety of products,” he said. “It’s a way for people to celebrate all that they do.”

Celebrate might have been the appropriate word as people were able to taste the new beet beer.

Cape May Brewing president and co-founder Ryan Krill has teamed up with beet farmer John Formisano to produce the new beer. Krill said it is the independent, craft brewers who are the innovators when it comes to producing new beers.

In the past 22 weeks, Cape May Brewing developed one new beer each week, leading up to Beets By May, he said. There are 65 craft brewers in New Jersey with another 43 in the process of becoming breweries, Krill said.

“There are now more breweries than wineries in New Jersey,” he said, adding that craft breweries still only represent about 12 percent of the U.S. market.

Krill introduced Brian Hink, who explained to the group how beer is made. He said the process is simple no matter the size of the batch – it’s all making ale from grain. They make a mash out of the grain, and enzymes convert the starch in the grain into sugar. Yeast feeds on the sugar and creates carbon dioxide and alcohol. Hops add bitterness, and other ingredients add flavor.

Ben Menk from the Farm and Fisherman Tavern in Cherry Hill first suggested Cape May Brewing consider using beets in one of its brews. The brewer was put in touch with Formisano Farms in Buena, and they purchased about 250 pounds of beets for a 1,000-gallon batch of beer. Formisano, who himself is not really a beer drinker, said this is the first time he has sold his beets to a brewery, but he wouldn’t mind selling more.

“We sent about 15 cases, but we hope they can take 200 more,” he said.

Formisano said he normally sells his beets to ShopRite and food brokers in the Vineland area.

Brewer Jimmy Valm said the beets give a traditional IPA an “earthy, almost dirty, unique flavor.”

“We designed the beer around the flavor of the beets,” he said. “It’s a simple pale ale, but before we finish the fermenting we add beets, which were picked that morning, and were boiled into a concentrate.”

The concentrate then ferments with the beer.

Valm said beer uses barley, hops, and other ingredients he said the like to get as fresh as possible.

Fisher praised Cape May Brewing for producing a local beer using local produce.

“Cape May Brewing Company are great supporters of Jersey Fresh,” Fisher said. “It’s a true local economy, supporting each other at every level – farmers at the farm, on to the craft brewery, and then to the restaurants. It’s a circular flow of the economy.”

Krill said Cape May Brewing has a summer wheat ale called Summer Catch, which is now his favorite beer. All the Cape May Brewing beers can be sampled in their Tasting Room on Hornet Road in the Cape May Airport. The Tasting Room is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.