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TRENTON—Cape May County, which has begun to make a name for itself in the craft beer and wine markets, may now have the opportunity to break into the hard stuff--thanks to legislation signed into law earlier this week.
On Wednesday, Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation that created a craft distillery license, which would allow distillers who make up to 20,000 gallons of hard liquor a year to purchase the license for $938, Before, supporters of the bill said, micro-distilleries were priced out of a state plenary liquor license, which ran at about $12,500 and had no limits on production.
The law will go into effect Dec. 1.
Ryan Krill, president of the Cape May Brewing Company, said Friday that the brewery may be looking into expanding to operate a whiskey still.
“We would love to do a side project with distilling,” he said. “We’ve been talking seriously about it for a while.”
Krill said that the company would most likely look into liquors that contain malt, like whiskey, because the whiskey-making process is similar to how beer is brewed and it contains many of the same ingredients.
Local wineries may also get in on the distilling business to supplement their vineyards. Brandy, for example, may be a viable option because it’s made from distilled wines.
Democratic senators who sponsored the bill say that craft-distilling is becoming trendy in other areas of the nation, like New York, California, Oregon, and Washington. But, in places like New Jersey, where the previous laws priced out small distilleries, these businesses couldn’t afford to operate.
Just this year, the Jersey Artisan Distilling in Fairfield, Essex County, opened with a plenary license. According to the owners, Jersey Artisan is the first distillery to open in the state since Prohibition was repealed in 1933.
In 2010, New York passed legislation creating a new class of alcoholic beverage license for “farm distillers” which they said has spurred 30 micro distilleries to open in New York State.
“Neighboring New York and other states have seen a surge in job creation due to their booming craft distilleries,” Sen. Shirley Turner, one of the legislation’s sponsors, said in a release. “It’s time for New Jersey to catch on to the trend and create a new, affordable license that encourages small-scale operations to break into the industry. Supporting local distilling operations is one way that we can spur economic growth throughout the state.”
Diane Weiland, director of tourism for the county, said that craft-distilleries may be another attraction to bring people to the Jersey Cape.
“How often do you have something new to add to the tourism economy?” she said Friday, adding that the legislation would allow for a new attraction to pop up in Cape May County.
“It ties back to being the Garden State and getting back to nature, and getting back to doing things that are homegrown,” she said.
She added that while the attraction may not be family-orientated, it would be potentially popular among baby boomers and millennials, similar to how craft breweries and wineries have become increasingly popular.
“We just look at it as one more attraction,” she said. “This is one more way to get people to stay longer, or come in the fall.”
She added that the wine trail and craft beer trails have become popular across the state, particularly in the county, and a craft distillery trail could drive tourism.
Legislators also say that the new law will bring a jolt to other local industries as well. For example, the law permits a license holder who certifies that 51 percent of the raw materials used in production are grown or purchased from New Jersey providers to label their product as “New Jersey Distilled.”
“This would be a great industry,” Weiland said. “You can’t just be a beach resort anymore. People need something to do that isn’t the boardwalk.”