UPDATE: On October 2nd, the ABC suspended the restrictive “special ruling”, opting to go through the legislative process instead of decree.
As some of you may already know, on September 24 the NJ Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Director Dave Rible issued a “Special Ruling Authorizing Certain Activities By Holders of Limited Brewery Licenses”. This puts a lot of restrictions on events conducted by microbreweries. As if New Jersey wasn’t one of the most retarded states when it comes to alcohol laws, this makes it even more retarded.
The folks at South Jersey Beer Scene did a very good breakdown of what this means for NJ breweries. It’s all meant to seriously limit tasting room activities. It limits brewery events to just 25 per year, each requiring special approval from the ABC. This includes live music, trivia nights, yoga classes, paint and sip, and any other public event. Keep in mind that some breweries have live music a few times a week in the summer, this means they’d run out of any kind of events in just a couple of months. The ruling also bars breweries from showing sporting events on TVs. It prohibits them from having menus from restaurants or food trucks at the brewery. Remember how NJ is stuck in the Prohibition era, and breweries aren’t allow to serve food? Some of them allow their customer to order food from outside, to be delivered at the brewery, now they can’t show a menus. They are not allowed to sell sodas anymore, just water.
It also limits off-site events to 12 every year. This includes charity events, 5K races, community events, and most importantly beer and music festivals! Just 12 per year! A former ABC official claims beer festivals following the 2014 ruling are exempt from that limit, but those are only the major festivals that have to be run by a non-profit, require a minimum of 20 breweries, and must have an educational theme. Most of the fun beer, food and music events are not part of that exemption.
As soon as the ruling came out, reaction from most New Jersey breweries was furious. Dozens of them took to social media to protest it. Some went to the news media to discuss the way it’s hurting small businesses in the state.
Jeff Benfer, Owner/Head Brewer of Raritan Bay Brewing Co said: “This ruling has the effect of destroying the small brewery business model in New Jersey. It threatens the livelihood of people such as my family – we all have full time jobs in addition to the brewery, and have invested from personal savings, some of us have mortgaged our homes to build this business! The ruling is an end run around the democratic process, it was formulated entirely in secret, with little to no input from the legislature and the public at large. Not a single public hearing, just bam, here’s the new rules, no discussion, no sunlight, no visibility into the workings of government. This ruling is an end run around municipal home rule. If a town doesn’t want a brewer to have too many events, they have the power to regulate that with ordinances, there is no need to have the ABC impose a statewide uniform regime.”
A group of breweries came up with a Petition to Support your Local New Jersey Craft Brewery, which we urge you to sign if you like our local craft beer. This is a stark contrast from claims that breweries are happy with the ruling since their representatives asked for it. I asked one brewery owner, who prefers to stay anonymous, how happy he is, and he said: “Not at all. That’s the public narrative they want to push. The fact is that very few breweries sold out for their own selfish interests at the behest of the many small breweries who are going to be hurt. They didn’t even share the draft regulation and tried to force us to sign an NDA. Very sad.”
The ruling is indeed supported by the big players, who rely more on outside distribution than on community, tasting room events. Because many of the small microbreweries have become community hubs where people get together to have fun and enjoy a cold brew. This is all about Big Beer vs. The Small Brewer. It can probably be traced back to when the brewers association split in two. (Read the Forbes article on that breakup). The main organization represents almost 90% of the total breweries. But the smaller group that split sells 75% of beer in the state. Big business loves regulations, because it increases the costs for smaller competitors, driving them out of business and increasing their own market share.
So if you like the young New Jersey craft beer scene, contact your Trenton representatives (who had no say in this) and SIGN THE PETITION!
You can read some of our reviews of Jersey Shore craft breweries at www.JerseyShoreReviews.com. The include Raritan, Cypress, Icarus, Ship Bottom, Jughandle and more!