Cape May Brewing: Putting Jersey on the map for craft beer

Love of homebrew gave two friends the incentive to Escape the Cube

by Robin Dalmas

Ryan Krill was majoring in philosophy and Chris Henke was studying mechanical engineering when they met in college. After graduation, they pursued traditional careers in finance and mechanical engineering. But somewhere in the back of their minds, another idea was fermenting.

The best friends loved making homebrew. They decided to start a brewery.

In July 2011, they opened the Cape May Brewing Company at the Cape May Airport in the southernmost part of New Jersey. Krill, president, and Henke, COO, are now on a mission. “We’re here to put the Garden State on the map for craft beer,” Krill said.

Cape May Brewing Company is a production brewery, distribution company, and retail outlet. It has created more than 100 varieties, including Cape May IPA, King Porter Stomp, and the amusingly named “Mop Water,” “Coastal Evacuation” and “I Know What You Did Last Shandy.” Their craft beer can be found at the tasting room in Cape May, plus bars, restaurants, and liquor stores all over South New Jersey and the Philadelphia area.

“We brew 500 gallons in one building, and 1,000 gallons in another building. And that’s a lot of beer,” Krill said.

Krill and Henke’s decision to pop the top on a whole new career had some folks shaking their heads. “They said, you’re crazy for opening a brewery,” Krill said. Yet, they moved forward with a clear-headed plan of action.

“Our escape plan had three parts,” Krill said. “It was do our homework on the craft brewing industry, build our operations, and find our customers to buy this stuff.” They had to figure out how to brew beer commercially and make a consistent product.

“We had to make a system to brew it,” Henke said. “We had to ferment it consistently, we had to store it, and we had to distribute it.”

Initially, finding customers seemed like a keg-sized hurdle. But when they gave Cabanas Beach Bar and Grill a sample of their Cape May IPA, the response was “We’ll take everything you’ve got.”

A fresh, new ingredient

Although beer making dates back to ancient times, it can still benefit from new ingredients. “For an industry that’s thousands of years old, we could not do this without technology,” Krill said. Tech tools help them manage inventory and finances. Delivery drivers use GPS so routes are optimized. The brewery uses Facebook®, Twitter®, Instagram, and a blog to tell its story and spread the word about craft beer. Krill, a pilot who flies to beer-related conferences and meetings, relies on ForeFlight, an app that alerts pilots to potential weather hazards and temporary flight restrictions.

Even after this Escape the Cube video was filmed, the business continues to create quite the buzz. Back in September, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, and People magazine covered the brewery’s release of #YOPO beer. The acronym stands for “You Only Pope Once,” and the special brew was released in honor of Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia.

Since filming, Cape May Brewing Company has also doubled the size of its sales team, hired a new chef to help create recipes using craft beer and savory ingredients, built a sour-beer only brewery, and acquired a new unit at the airport so it can build a store for its merchandise. It sponsored the nonprofit organization Team Foster to raise awareness for wounded combat veterans, sponsored TEDx Cape May, and raised money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Krill was also re-elected as president of the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild for 2016. In that capacity, he will continue to advocate for job creation legislation at both the state capital and the nation’s capital.

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