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'Dry' Haddonfield will welcome King's Road Brewing Co.

The idea began, as many often do, over a beer.

Haddonfield neighbors were hanging out after the monthly Art of Beer class in the Markeim Arts Center. The conversation turned to businesses leaving the borough's downtown.

"And someone mentioned, 'Well, you know: Collingswood just opened Devil's Creek.' Which is a nanobrewer," said Bob Hochgertel, who manages Markheim. "And Pitman, also perceived to be a dry town, had just opened Kelly Green. And one of the people who was with us hanging said, 'You know, I wonder if we could do this in this town.'"

Their end game would be a nanobrewery -- a very small brewery -- that would help not only Haddonfield's BYOB restaurants but also be a destination.

This fall should bring the debut of King's Road Brewing Co. (after ye olde name of Kings Highway). It will be a tasting room serving only beer brewed on the premises, under a tenet of New Jersey's alcohol laws that allows such operations in "dry" towns.

Haddonfield has been dry since 1873, though a referendum in 2014 allows wineries to lease retail space in restaurants.

New Jersey towns are latching on to the idea of breweries. Besides Devil's Creek in Collingswood and Kelly Green in Pitman, there is Tonewood Brewing in Oaklyn. Lunacy Brewing in Magnolia has a tasting room in Haddon Heights in the works.

Hochgertel, who contends that his primary interest in beer is consumption, signed up four partners: Victoria Jensh Cummins (an event planner for associations), Jeff Farrell (a banker), Pete Gagliardi (a homebrewer and winemaker), and Chris Thomas (who has managed breweries and bars such as Samuel Adams Brew Pub and Monk's Cafe).

They leased a former boutique at 127 Kings Highway East, at Mechanic Street. Coincidentally, it was the site of Gibbs Tavern, built in 1777. Its stone foundation, walls, and historical marker remain.

Last week, a few days after the borough cleared the way for King's Road Brewing to proceed, we asked Hochgertel to run down the process.

How did you realize that you could do this, legally?

One of the gentlemen in the class was Michael Plunkett. He is not one of our members, but he is our general counsel. He said, "I read the state legislation on nanobreweries, and I looked at the bureau language for zoning, and I think we can do this." And at that moment, the thing that we had just kicked around as an idea became a potential reality. And we said, "Do we want to do this?" And the five of us who were members just kind of stepped up and said, "Yeah, let's see if we can."

The first thing we did was meet with Mayor Jeff Kasko.  We said to him, "We've read the state laws, we've read the bureau language for zoning. We don't see anything preventing us from doing it, but if you know something we don't, tell us." He said he would talk to the other commissioners and look into it, and after a few days, he said: "We have no objections if you want to pursue it."

Why did you want to do a nanobrewery? And, for that matter, what is a nanobrewery?

The license that we're getting is called a limited brewery license, and it actually allows up to 300,000 barrels a year. Nano is just small. For a nanobrewery, you are allowed to brew up to 50,000 barrels. In this instance, because it really is a brewery to service the tasting room, we're probably looking about three or four hundred barrels a year [at 31 gallons per barrel]. We're really looking at about six barrels a week.  We are not a manufacturing or production brewery.

Any food?

You can't. That's actually part of the license. People can bring their own, but we cannot prepare or profit from food.

Is it possible to make money with the nanobrewery, or is this not a money-making venture?

No, actually you can make money from it. We actually did a break-even analysis and we break even at just under three barrels a week and we're projecting hopefully six, so that's a good sign. Because there's nothing else like it in town, we expect it to be very popular. We are surrounded by several restaurants, and, again, our reason for doing this is to help the downtown. People come into the brewhouse, they'll eat at our restaurants, they'll shop at our shops. So people come in, grab a few growlers, go over to the British Chip Shop, or they go to Little Tuna, or Corner Bistro. So I think it could be very lucrative for that reason.

Can I ask what was your investment?

By the time we open our doors, when you include the cost of the brewing equipment, which is the largest part, the stainless-steel brewing equipment, the build-out of the facility, preparation, marketing, ingredients, everything to open our doors, we're thinking the investment will be about $200,000 to $250,000.

What kinds of beers?

We'll have four to 10 taps — stouts, porters, sours, IPAs, pale ales, wheats, and the like. Such names could include Mountwell Maibock, Hadrosaurus Hop Monster, and Indian King IPA.