As the weather warms up, there's nothing like enjoying a cold beer outside with some friends, relaxing and listening to music.

Good thing that New Jersey's breweries are gearing up for a great summer after struggling last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Jay Mahoney, president of The New Jersey Brewers Association, said outside seating and the extension of premises were the keys to success for many breweries during the pandemic and said he hopes this stays permanent.

He said he's grateful that the state Alcoholic Beverage Control has allowed New Jersey breweries to continue with these privileges until November 2022 but Mahoney hopes it will become a forever thing.

Mahoney also said he would like to see curbside pickup and home delivery at New Jersey breweries made permanent too. These saved a lot of breweries during the shutdowns and the limited occupancy periods.

While great beer is always the draw for people to visit New Jersey craft breweries, Mahoney still has some concerns. Even with the latest restrictions loosened, allowing tasting rooms to increase capacity to 50%, many breweries are facing restrictions due to the social distancing requirements. Not allowing them to have bar seating and not allowing them to push tables together limits the amount of people inside.

Outdoor seating will again become helpful this summer. Mahoney said the breweries are looking at tourism and promotion. Businesses survived the pandemic due to the support of customers. "As consumers begin getting out again in larger numbers, we encourage them to continue to support New Jersey craft breweries," said Mahoney.

He said it's not about just going to the tasting rooms at these breweries. People can show their support when they dine out at local restaurants. Look at the New Jersey craft beers that are on tap there and order them.

The NJBA is also supporting legislation that will help develop beer tourism in the state for The Division of Travel and Tourism.

With tasting rooms, Mahoney said, increasing capacity, easing up on spacing restrictions and resuming bar service will become very helpful for the brewery business going forward.

Right now, tables are 6 feet apart inside the tasting rooms at New Jersey breweries. Many have plexiglass barriers up in between tables and everything is cleaned very well, he added.

As far as new beers, Mahoney said the breweries are serving and carrying more hard seltzers. Many are coming out with new twists to existing beer styles every few weeks, as well. So there will be exciting new tastes to enjoy this summer.

Mahoney was very excited to also announce that the NJBA will be resuming many events and festivals that it was forced to cancel last summer due to the pandemic.

The return of its premiere event "Battleship Beer Fest" on the Battleship New Jersey in Camden, happens Saturday, July 24. The festival is held on the battleship on the Delaware River. Historically, between 800 and 1000 people have attended. More than breweries will be on hand serving their own tastings. General session is a $50 donation per adult from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The VIP session, which gets guests aboard to enjoy samples an hour earlier than the public session, is a $75 donation.

NJ Beer Festival guests will get a Fire Power self-guided tour of the Battleship New Jersey. There will also be live music, great food and more. The Battleship will follow current COVID guidelines too. All guests must pass a health screening, which includes a contactless temperature check, wear masks and of course, social distance.  The NJBA Facebook page has a link to the event where interested people can buy tickets.

Also in the planning stage is the NJBA's second "Burlington Hops and Rocks" event on Saturday, Sept. 25. It's in Burlington City on the riverfront. The music festival and beer garden is hosted by the NJBA. In 2019, its debut year, the event brought in about 600 people. Tickets are not yet on sale as the event is still in the planning stages.

There are lots of exciting things happening across New Jersey breweries this summer and Mahoney said he's looking forward to a great season.

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