EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — On a weekend afternoon, one of the principals of Atlantic County’s newest brewery met with a reporter, while two others walked a group from Fulton Bank of New Jersey through the operation.
Standing in what will become the main tasting room of Hidden Sands Brewing Co., John Cipriani said there are a couple more weeks of construction left, including cleaning out the huge fermenting tanks, and he added about another week to make sure everything’s ready to go. The required licenses are in place, he said, so as soon as everything’s ready, they’ll start brewing, which will mean pouring the first pint at the brewery at 6754 Washington Ave. by the end of October.
“We want this location to be a destination,” Cipriani said. “That’s the way this has been set up.”
With close to $2 million in investment and loans in the brewery, the partners plan to start big and expand from there. They already have an option on the other side of the building and are set for special events, corporate meetings and walk-in tastings.
They plan to offer several varieties of beer to start, including one called 800-Foot Pils and more than one India pale ale, a hugely popular ale with a strong hops flavor. But unlike many startup breweries, Cipriani and his partners, Matt Helm and Tony Cepparulo, are not avid homebrewers, ready to take their perfect pilsner to the world. They’re entrepreneurs, Cipriani said.
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“We’re not beer geeks,” he said. “We want to brew beer that people want. We want to brew what will sell.”
But they plan for local appeal.
“We’ll have a beer with blueberries. We’re in Atlantic County. Of course we’re going to use blueberries,” Cipriani said.
He said they’ve learned a lot about beer and brewing over the years they’ve worked on opening the brewery, but they plan to hire an experienced brewmaster and leave the beer making to an expert. They were set to interview a candidate for the job soon after finishing talking to the reporter.
“None of us have big egos,” he said. They want to understand the process but don’t necessarily have to run everything. “If I own a restaurant, I don’t have to be the chef.”
According to Cipriani, whoever gets the job will be well equipped, both with what he described as state-of-the-art equipment and a lab set up for the brewmaster. They’re also set for water.
“We invested $75,000 into a well,” Cipriani said, boring down to the pure water of the 800-foot Sands aquifer. That means the water will not have to be treated or processed before the brewing starts, and it gives the brewery its name.
Cipriani is a CPA with his own business, as well as a longtime high school coach; Cepparulo does custom kitchens; and Helm is president of the Absecon Island Beverage Co., which meant he ran the lines for the beer taps at many of the bars and restaurants in the area. That combined experience helped the principals run the project and do a lot of the work getting the site ready.
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“It’s been about five years,” said Cepparulo.
They hope Helm’s contacts and experience will help the brewery get its beer on shelves and on tap at local restaurants quickly.
Helm launched the project in the first place. According to Cipriani, Helm met with several people for beer dinners regularly, trying out different brews from around the area. He suggested looking into opening a brewery, and the idea was met with some enthusiasm.
“When it came time to put money on the table, all the guys that he started with began disappearing,” Cipriani said. Each of the principals put together a group of investors, so several people have money in the project. They raised about $1.1 million and borrowed an additional $785,000.
Work continued through the interview, and a friendly shepherd mix named Val wandered by at one point. Just past the entrance is a bar set up for tastings, and inside is a much larger three-level tasting area overlooking the huge steel tanks. Another, smaller room could be used for corporate events, Cipriani said. There is parking behind the building.
For decades, New Jersey had among the strictest systems for breweries and wineries, according to industry experts. A change a few years ago allowed breweries to sell beer by the glass, opening the door for an expansion in the number of craft breweries in the state. There are restrictions: Breweries with tasting rooms cannot sell food and must include an educational component, typically some kind of tour. The brewery gets a better return on each pint sold at the site, compared to what it could sell through a distributor, and lets them offer an experience to locals and tourists.
Cape May County has seen a boom in local breweries, and the wave has reached Atlantic County. Tuckahoe Brewing Co. moved from Cape May County to English Creek Avenue, Garden State Brewing Co. opened in Galloway Township in 2016, and more are open or on their way.
Cipriani said Hidden Sands has the needed federal license and a provisional state license. Breweries operate on a different license than bars or restaurants, and don’t require a municipal license to serve, which has allowed breweries to open with tasting rooms in dry towns like Pitman in Gloucester County.
For more information, see hiddensands.com or call 609-910-2209.