A truck depot that was part of a bustling pinball machine distribution center in Oaklyn. A fitness gym located off a busy exit ramp in Pennsauken. A plant that manufactured caskets in Ocean Township. When these New Jersey businesses closed, microbreweries swooped in.  Never mind the unusual locations.

Sparked by relaxed laws and the boom in the craft beer industry, microbreweries in New Jersey are exploding.  In just the last two years, they have doubled in number, with about 80 open, and are fast approaching the 100 mark, with 20 more planned.

The state was "definitely late to the game, but breweries have finally arrived in a significant way in New Jersey," said Ryan Krill, president of the Garden State Craft Brewers Guild and owner of the Cape May Brewing Co.  He said they are behind Pennsylvania and other neighboring states, where scores of breweries have been taking root for years. But New Jersey is picking up the pace.

In Medford, Sean and Pola Galie, a rare mother-son brewing team, operate the Lower Forge Brewery in the quiet downtown.  Sean, a professional firefighter, and Pola, a beekeeper and herbalist, are currently selling blueberry craft beer made from local fruit, and are celebrating their business' first anniversary with a special blend, Magical Mosaic.

Tuesday May 2, 2017 Sean Galie and his mom Pola Galie are the owners and operators of Medford's Lower Forge Brewery. The two co- brewers have an arrangement with local farmers who take the grain byproduct from the brewery to feed their cows and sheep. Here, ED HILLE / Staff Photographer
Ed Hille
Tuesday May 2, 2017 Sean Galie and his mom Pola Galie are the owners and operators of Medford's Lower Forge Brewery. The two co- brewers have an arrangement with local farmers who take the grain byproduct from the brewery to feed their cows and sheep. Here, ED HILLE / Staff Photographer

And Mount Holly has become a bit of a brewing hub with Spellbound and the Village Idiot breweries, while Burlington City has Third State Brewing and History Quest near the Delaware River.   On the other side of the state is the Kane Brewing Co., which opened in a shuttered casket-making plant in Ocean Township, near Asbury Park.

About 30 breweries and brew pubs have sprung up in South Jersey, mostly in the last year or two, and operate under limited or restricted brewery licenses issued by the state. Many popped up off the beaten track and some are even venturing into dry towns where liquor has been verboten.

Haddonfield is a historically dry town that will break with its tradition this fall, for the first time, if the Kings Road Brewing Co. opens downtown, as planned.  The nanobrewery owners say they will brew only three to six barrels (31 gallons a barrel) each week and will serve customers in a tasting room that will open inside a former boutique.  The town had a  referendum to pave the way for alcohol sales. Pitman, another dry town, saw the debut of the Kelly Green Brewing Co. one year ago.  Its opening marked the first time a mug of suds was legally sold since the borough was incorporated in 1905.

And  New Jersey breweries are holding their own against larger breweries in Philadelphia and elsewhere, sometimes even outranking the bigger players in competitions.   Double Nickel, which opened two years ago in a former fitness gym in Pennsauken, had its Vienna lager claim first place in the popular vote during the Inquirer's annual Brewvitational competition for local craft beer last month.  Forty-one breweries from three states participated.  That same lager also won a prize in the competition judged by experts in 2016. Double Nickel, as well as other New Jersey breweries, sells to restaurants and bars in Philadelphia.

In New Jersey

Staff Graphic

Tonewood Brewing, in sleepy Oaklyn Borough in Camden County, just marked its one-year anniversary this month and is producing as much as 3,500 gallons a week. On the last Friday of each month, during warm weather, lines often form when the food trucks arrive and complement the offerings of the brewery.

Eli Facchinei, a former ski bum who learned how to brew in Colorado, joined with his brother, Taylor, to open the brewery in the building he said was once owned by Terminal Vending Co., a South Jersey landmark. Business has exceeded expectations, said Eli Facchinei, 31, in a recent interview at the brewery, which holds seven shimmering stainless steel tanks. "We had hoped for this, but we planned for less," he said, noting that they have expanded twice.

On a warm Thursday night in June, a few dozen patrons sipped beer inside the cheerfully decorated, high-ceiling brewery, whose garage doors and windows were flung wide open.  Patrons sat at the tree-trunk tables, bar stools, and a small sofa inside, while a few dozen others sat outside at picnic tables, beneath a string of white lights, tasting 4-ounce glasses of Fuego and Terminal craft beers.

"I grew up in Oaklyn and there was never anything to do.  This  brings a new life to the town," Caitlin Hawco, an athletic trainer at the Rothman Institute, said of the microbrewery, which is close enough for her to walk there. The brewery is also "college-debt friendly, where the beer is $5 for 16-ounces," said Shelby Malsbury, 25, an occupational therapist, as she sat outside with Hawco, and another friend, Megan Irving, who had Cooper, a Yorkiepoo, on her lap.

Before the state laws changed in 2012, there were only nine breweries, according to the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The breweries were not permitted to sell beer by the glass, but could hand out free 4-ounce samples during tours.  "The best we could hope for was if someone would buy a hat or T-shirt," said Krill, who opened his Cape May Brewery in 2011. New Jersey now allows beer to be sold at microbreweries, but unlike Pennsylvania, this must be part of a tour and they cannot sell food.

Krill said the guild is lobbying for legislation to make tours optional and allow breweries to at least sell snacks.  The guild wants to "be respectful" of restaurants and bars that purchase their craft beer and that are required to obtain expensive liquor licenses that allow them to sell both food and alcohol, he said.

Galie said he is hopeful a new law can be passed.  Operating a brewery has "been a lot of blood, sweat and tears," he said, "but it's also been fun."