Endless Beers: Cape May Brewing Company
The fiance and I frequent Wildwood, New Jersey throughout the summer months. We’ve found the food and drink spots to avoid, and determined our “go to” spots. The one thing I was missing was local craft beer. In the past couple of years, I noticed a “Cape May IPA” popping up at the local bars. Finally I realized that the Cape May Brewing Company is located just miles away. Housing several fermentation tanks, small brew kettles, and various bearded men, the Cape May Brewing company is making its mark on the New Jersey, New York, and Philadelphia craft beer market.
The founders of the brewery (Chris and Ryan) are South Jersey residents and wanted to have a craft beer that was locally brewed. Unfortunately, there were few options. After some careful planning, the Cape May Brewing Company opened in July of 2011 and began brewing various beers to satisfy their urges. In only three years, the brewery (and taproom)’s reach continues to grow. A larger brew house is in the plans to help them fulfill their distribution wait list of 60 + vendors.
The taproom manager, Jim gives the tour and is well versed in the history and the making of their beer. Jim moved over to working in a brewery after working as a bartender for several years. Jim never really liked beer since he was tasting the water-like substance many of us call “big beer.” However, he visited the taproom and they gave him a flight of various beers to taste. Since then, he’s been hooked on beer. Jim’s advice to craft beer “novices” or noobs is to go to a brewery, order a flight, and keep give it a try.
The Cape May Brewing Co. staff is asked to make their own beer recipe that is then produced and served at the tap room. Staff pick their favorite styles of beers, talk to the brew master, and the rest is history. There is clear competition among the staff regarding who created the best suds and who grossed the most profit from their creations. While I was there, one of the staff (apparently “Dan the Man”) created a Black IPA, fitting the typical profile of a hoppy IPA with the sweetness of dark and roasted malts. I spoke with Dan while he was working behind the bar and we discussed what he liked about it and what he would do differently next time.
Jersey laws are apparently just as weird as Pennsylvania’s and requires that every patron is given an education of the establishment before partaking in beverages. The taproom offers scheduled tours during certain hours and also offers self-guided tours with a handy map and information guide. Afterward, you get a glass and a flight of brews. The glass is not a dinky tasting glass that will sit in your cabinet collecting dust – they have two full size glasses to choose from that you’ll be able to brag to your friends about later.
The taproom fills up quickly, so I would suggest getting there before 6:00 and claim a seat at the bar. The staff is very knowledgeable at the bar and are happy to answer questions about the beer. Choices in brews ranged from a Berliner sour to a coffee stout on firkin. I suggest trying something that sounds different or asking the bartender to pick for you. Jim brought over a mix of two beers – the Berliner and a cranberry brew. The mixture was refreshing, sweet, and tart. Apparently the poor suds are nameless at this point, so when you go – ask for “Jim’s Special.”
When the new brew house goes up, the taproom will remain in the same location. They are planning to continue using that facility in addition to the current brewery. Do not expect food to be served (again – stupid laws), but some people brought their own snacks and they seemed to be having just as much fun. I asked if any collaboration brews are in the works and the answer was a cryptic yes. Apparently they’ve been in talks with various breweries about some potential collaborations. Stay tuned. I would hope Dogfish Head is one of them, being that they are just a ferry ride away.
The brewery has tasty beers and offers some events like “Firkin Fridays” so far. At only three years old, it is distributing to various bars in South Jersey and Philadelphia. The staff at Cape May Brewing Company are very proud of the product and knowledgeable about craft beer. If your bartender doesn’t know an answer to your question, they will find someone who does. The owners are very involved in the brewing process and works hands-on with the brew master to create the beer. When I was there, one of the owners stopped by to taste some of the new beers on tap and test out a stout they had in the fermenter. I got a taste of it straight from the tank – it is reminiscent of the Dogfish Head World Wide Stout. Yum.
If you have a chance to hit up the Cape May Brewing Company, here are my favorite beers to try:
- Coffee Stout: Dry hopped with coffee, bitter coffee flavors are balanced throughout with the sweet roasted malts attributed to stouts
- Tower 23: A Berliner Weisse with sweet hints of a wheat beer contrasting with the tartness of a sour brew
- Devil’s Reach: One of the most popular beers, the Belgian Strong Ale is surprisingly smooth as one of the higher ABV’s offer. The belgian yeast really comes through in the brew after getting an interesting combination of strong hop flavors and sweet malts.
Not all breweries offer so much education about their beer. While some offer a simple tour and skimp you on the taste, Cape May Brewing Company offers much more. This is a good place for someone who wants to give craft beer a try or for a craft beer enthusiast that wants to try some different flavors. Regardless, make sure you ask if any employee brews are on tap and ask the bartender to choose at least one of the beers on your flight.