Founded in 2011 by Ryan Krill, his buddy Chris Henke and Ryan’s father Bob – Cape May Brewing Company sold its first keg right out of Ryan’s trunk.
What began nearly ten years ago as a humble, hyper-local operation is now a force to be reckoned with in the world of craft beer.
The idea for the brewery began at the Krill family’s beach house in Avalon, NJ. Bob Krill (known as “Mop Man” for his constant cleanup work at the brewery), Ryan and Chris found, as many vacationing beer lovers did in those days, that the craft beer they loved wasn’t easy to find down the shore. Unlike many vacationing beer lovers, they decided to do something about it.
Year after year, Cape May posts double, sometimes triple digit growth, bucking a perceived trend that sales have slowed down in the craft beer segment. According to Krill, this growth comes courtesy of their strong core lineup. And their seasonals are killer too – just in time for warmer weather, the brewery has released Cape May Tan Limes – a Mexican-style lager brewed with lime and Cape May sea salt.
So, what is Krill’s secret to growing Cape May from a three-person crew to New Jersey’s most successful craft brewery? Draught Lines sat down with him to find out.
Draught Lines (D.L.) Your growth in recent years has been astronomical – what changed things for Cape May?
Ryan Krill (R.K.) Two years ago, we decided to put our “big boy pants on.” When we first started Cape May, I remember we bought a font online because we thought that’s all you needed for branding. But then we were like, wait what are we doing? If we do this, let’s do it right.
D.L. How did you figure out what “doing it right” looked like?
R.K. We looked at breweries that were doing things well and copied parts of their playbook. Most of them used professional ad agencies to hone their identity, so we found an agency that we really liked. We learned it wasn’t just about developing a logo, it was about finding out who we are. Now we know who we are and who we are not. Wearing “big boy pants” is all about focus, commitment to excellence and making great beer.
D.L. How does Cape May as a town and culture get evoked in your beer?
R.K. This place is about nostalgia. Everyone has their own story about Cape May. We draw on that when creating and selling our products. Learning about everyone’s personal connection to the town makes it fun. We can all talk about that special connection. That’s our selling story. It hasn’t changed, we’ve just better defined it.
D.L. A lot of your beers start as small batch brews in your tasting room. Can you tell us how a limited beer can become a widely distributed best seller in just a few years’ time?
R.K. The Bog is a great example of our process. It started as a cranberry wheat beer that we accidentally put too much cranberry in, so we cut it with lemonade, and everyone loved it. Because it was so popular, we brought it to Philly. Now it’s a fan favorite.
D.L. How does being a “local” brand add to Cape May’s identity?
R.K. We don’t hang our hat on local. We just happen to be local. We don’t see it as a point of differentiation because there’s always another local brand. Millions of visitors come to Cape May from all over the country, so staying “local” isn’t a focus for us.
D.L. For a brewery your size, your Research and Development pro- gram is highly advanced. How do they help bring new ideas to life?
R.K. R.A.D. gives us the time to really dial in on a recipe. We’ll brew a small batch of a new beer and release it in the Tasting Room, asking our visitors for feedback. Our Always Ready Pale Ale and Cape May White both began as part of the R.A.D. program.
D.L. Can you tell us more about your brand-new Cape May White?
R.K. We’ve got a lot of killer IPAs on the shelves, but we wanted something a little different: an approachable, easy-drinking Belgian wit, something that’s going to appeal to the craft beer drinker who prefers the fruity esters and gently spiced brews over some- thing tremendously hoppy. It began as Great Wit Shark, which won silver at the US Beer Tasting Championships last year, so we’ve already had a great response.
D.L. What else is new for 2020?
R.K. Tan Limes, available now, is a simple, drinkable lager, with lime juice and sea salt. When we first released it, on draught only in April of last year, the response was overwhelming. This May we are releasing The Grove, our new citrus shandy and Crushin’ It, a dry, approachable, perfectly balanced orange IPA.
D.L. If you had to boil Cape May’s success down to one thing, what would it be?
R.K. I can’t stress this enough – it really comes down to the fact that we’ve got great beer. Our brewers have the latitude to try new things: they’re not tied down by style or any philosophy. They have freedom to innovate. It’s crazy, but we have plans to release 39 different beers next year. Sure, our fans have come expect certain beers, but beyond that, they know to expect the unexpected.