Brewers seek clarity after ABC rules suspended

Gabrielle Saulsbery//October 8, 2018//

Brewers seek clarity after ABC rules suspended

Gabrielle Saulsbery//October 8, 2018//

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A week after the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control released a special ruling regulating New Jersey’s limited license breweries, its Oct. 2 “suspension of enforcement” of those rules left brewers and guilds in search of clarity.

“[It] seems they need to do a lot of clarification and figure all this stuff out better,” said Scott Wells, director of sales at Bolero Snort Brewery in Ridgefield Park. “It’s more of a ‘stay tuned’ than anything else.”

“We’re kind of trying to assess where things stand. This gives us another ability to sit down and talk and also engage the Legislature, not only with what’s in the special ruling, but other things impacting the industry,” added Eric Orlando, executive director of the Brewers Guild of New Jersey.

Under the Sept. 24 ABC ruling, breweries were limited to 25 on-premises special events per year and permitted to do 12 off-premises events; however, all events required the ABC be notified first, at least 10 days in advance.

The ruling also said breweries were not allowed to give out menus from local food venues for visitors to order from — a staple offering of limited-license breweries since they are prohibited from serving food — or coordinate with local vendors to serve food at the brewery. The new regulations did allow for the offering of snacks like prepackaged crackers and chips.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd District, had vowed legislative action to overturn the restrictions, joining a chorus of lawmakers and business owners.

Coughlin said the regulations were inconsistent with a 2012 law aimed at fostering growth in the state’s nearly 100 craft breweries.

At a Facebook town hall Oct. 1, Gov. Phil Murphy cast doubt on whether the ABC’s actions were the “sensible step to take.” He added the regulations “took him by surprise.”

Orlando met with ABC Director David Rible, New Jersey Brewers Association President Jamie Queli and others several times over the last year to try to create a special ruling that would work for all pertinent stakeholders.

One of those is the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association. Marilou Halvorsen, its president and CEO, said she is not sure why breweries would want to roll back the new regulations.

“This allows them to do events legally. I am concerned that now they are under the impression they don’t need to follow the law,” she said. “Many breweries wanted these regulations so they could host events legitimately. With the proposed regulations breweries can host or participate in over 70 events and year. Without the new regs, they can’t. I am sure no one is suggesting they can break the law.”

After the ruling was issued, a petition on brewedindependent.org garnered over 25,000 signatures from those in protest. The public outcry prompted the ABC to suspend enforcement of the ruling.

“We were involved in the negotiation and had a certain idea of what was going to be contained in it. As we kind of look at it and got some feedback from some of the membership — literally reading line by line the language — some questions were coming up,” said Orlando. “We were kind of in a back-and-forth exchange with the ABC, like ‘where is this going, how it is going to be done?’ There were certain aspects that were OK, there were other things that we had issues with. Now it seems we’re kind of starting over.”

Mike Geller, brewer at Three 3’s in Hammonton, sees the suspension of enforcement as positive.

“I think it gives us a chance to sit down and look at this from a holistic point of view that sort of takes into account everybody’s different business model,” he said.

 Daniel J. Munoz contributed to this report.