NJ brewers, lawmakers fight rules they say limit craft beer trade

Fancy a craft beer at a New Jersey brewery? Just remember a few rules:

No sipping before taking a mandatory brewery tour. No ordering nachos as there are no kitchens. You won’t find any coffee or coke for your non-drinking friends either. Expect no more than two TVs — each not permitted by the state of New Jersey to exceed 65 inches.

Be aware that the brewery is only allowed 25 “special events” per year, such as trivia contests, fundraisers, open mic nights. There are also stipulations regarding the publicity of these events, as well as the television broadcast of championship games such as the World Series.

“People say the rules can’t be as ridiculous as they look,” said Lori White, co-owner of Zed’s Beer in Marlton. “They are.”

New Jersey’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Division initiated the regulations based on 2012 state legislation that qualified brewers as manufacturers with beer tasting rooms — not bars. The idea was to support breweries without siphoning off business from bars and restaurants that pay $500,000 or more for liquor licenses. Brewer maker licenses range from around $1,250 to $7,500.

In a statement on Thursday, ABC Director James B. Graziano said the agency “will support craft brewery owners in their efforts to grow their businesses…and promote fairness in the robust industry.” New Jersey alcoholic beverages”.

The ABC has long maintained that it is wrongly implicated as the author of draconian regulations, saying it abides by state law and has fostered compromise between breweries, bars and restaurants.

“These rules don’t exist in any other state,” said Jamie Bogner, editorial director of Craft beer and brewing magazine in Ft. Collins, Colorado. “New Jersey is making it impossible for brewers, including limiting the amount of beer breweries can make.”

Currently, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers is sponsoring bills aimed at easing the restrictions. Sen. Michael Testa (R., Cape May County) called the “disastrous” regulations “an affront to the freedoms breweries should enjoy.”

In September, Death of the Fox, a brewery in Clarksboro, Gloucester County, sued the ABC for an “attack on small brewers.”

Starting on Thanksgiving and continuing through January, a group of New Jersey brewers will begin selling an Indian lager called Brew Jersey as a nationwide fundraising mechanism to lobby the state legislature. to “fix a broken system,” according to Eric Orlando, head of the Brewers Guild of New Jersey, representing 50 of the state’s 141 breweries. (Pennsylvania has about 350.)

The IPA recipe is published on BrewJersey.com so any brewer can make and sell the beer, donating profits to the advocacy effort. Each can of beer will have a QR code informing consumers how to participate.

Brian Sappio, 43, from Marlton, is a Zed customer and artist who plays guitar at South Jersey breweries.

“Beer pub audiences are more receptive and tip better than bar audiences,” he said. “The beer artisans are very close-knit and welcoming. This is no place to get drunk. You can bring your children. »

White agreed, “Each brewery has its own culture, identity, history.” But as breweries became more popular, she said, liquor licensees fought to “make breweries less interesting places.”

That’s “as far from the truth as you can get,” said Diane Weiss, executive director of the New Jersey Licensed Beverage Association.

Her organization wants breweries to succeed, she says, and sell their beers to local bars and restaurants. “Nobody fears the competition,” Weiss said.

But, she added, as holders of manufacturing licenses, brewers were “granted privileges they weren’t entitled to: selling beer by the glass and hosting special events.”

If breweries want to be liberated, “get the right license,” Weiss demanded, meaning the expensive liquor license.

Brewers say that because buying, assembling and maintaining brewery equipment can cost $1 million or more, they’ve likely exceeded the cost of a liquor license.

Either way, Weiss said, “we don’t lobby against brewers. We lobby against how they try to turn their licenses into something more.

As far as licensed restaurateurs are concerned, relations seem to be improving.

Voorhees attorney James M. Graziano, an attorney for the New Jersey Brewers Association (unrelated to ABC executive James B. Graziano), said, “I don’t think the restaurants have a lot of trouble. The bars are always lobbying against us, but the restaurants know that the brewers don’t want to install kitchens.

Robin Winzinger, owner of Robin’s Nest restaurant in Mount Holly, said she had two thoughts about the breweries: “They are able to sell alcohol without paying huge license fees. It’s not fair. But the breweries near me attract younger crowds who eat here after drinking. I’m ok with that.”

Yet the inability of breweries to offer foods other than single-serving snacks is creating problems.

While customers are allowed to bring meals from restaurants, breweries cannot make their own arrangements with those restaurants to regularly prepare and deliver food, said Jay Mahoney, owner of Third State Brewing in Burlington City.

“We can’t even coordinate with food trucks, which aren’t allowed to park outside our doors,” Mahoney said.

In Pennsylvania, things work differently: breweries can have kitchens. In fact, Commonwealth law requires that food “sufficient to constitute breakfast, lunch or dinner” be available at beer halls because drinking without eating hastens intoxication. Water in food dilutes alcohol while protein and fat slow alcohol absorption, research shows.

“New Jersey is the only state I know of that bans food,” Bogner said.

More important than meals, brewers say, are special event limitations.

“The state is overriding, telling us what we can and cannot do within our own walls,” said Clint Brown, operations manager at Farmers & Bankers Brewing in Woodstown, Salem County.

Breweries must register their 25 annual events with the state. If they hold a 26th event, the brewery risks losing its license.

“We could use all 25 in three months,” owner Mike Melniczuk said, adding that New Jersey only allows breweries to host 52 private parties a year. “You need these things to attract people.”

Burdened by so many restrictions, he said, “you could see Jersey breweries moving to Delaware or Pennsylvania.

“Does that make sense?”

About Anne Wurtsbach

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