EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Matthew McDevitt, the head brewer at Tuckahoe Brewing Co., has hosted birthday parties, fundraisers, weddings and comedy shows inside his business on English Creek Avenue.
But due to a special ruling last month by the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, McDevitt’s and other microbreweries are now limited in the number of events they can host during the course of a year.
The ruling, which is a precursor to regulations, restricts microbreweries to 25 special events or on-site activities each year, such as live performances, sporting-event themed nights and trivia nights, and no more than 52 private parties each year.
Local breweries view the restrictions as unfair and potentially harmful to their businesses.
Tuckahoe Brewing Co. hosted around 25 events during the past year, McDevitt said.
“However, if you lump into those 25 things that which we planned to do (in 2019), for example — having televised sporting events — that is a very, very low number for that,” McDevitt said.
Breweries have to look at the ruling two different ways, as it affects their individual businesses, but also the craft beer culture and communities in the state, McDevitt said.
McDevitt was more concerned about the big picture than his individual business.
“If long term, small breweries and small businesses have to fold because they can’t sustain their business plan, or their business model, under the new ruling, then, big picture, I believe that brewing and local craft beer culture in this state ends up suffering,” McDevitt said.
There are 88 microbreweries in the state of all different sizes and business models, said Eric Orlando, executive director of the Brewers Guild of New Jersey.
Twenty-one of the 88 microbreweries are in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and southern Ocean County.
“If folks’ business model is more about their tasting room at the brewery and how much beer they pour on site, and they do a lot of different activities that would be restricted, it’s going to be very impactful, possibly negatively,” Orlando said. “There is going to be an impact regardless of size.”
Microbreweries range in the number of events they have from one a month to three to four a week, Orlando said.
“Our neighbors, Pennsylvania and New York, they don’t have these types of restrictions,” Orlando said.
The special ruling was created with significant input from the NJ Brewers Association and the Brewers Guild of NJ and is the product of collaboration among the craft brewery industry, said Sharon Lauchaire of the state Attorney General’s Office.
“The division is implementing the special ruling on a temporary pilot basis,” Lauchaire said. “The information and data being collected by the division through its implementation of this special ruling will eventually form the basis for the development of regulations governing the burgeoning craft brewery industry.”
Brothers Michael and John Geller of the Three 3’s Brewing Company in Hammonton canceled an event they were planning to host on Sept. 29 because of the ruling.
A food truck was supposed to be in the area, but they did not want anyone to think they were colluding with the food truck, so they pulled out of the event, Michael Geller said.
The holder of a limited brewery extension of premises special permit is prohibited from providing food or coordinating with any food vendors to sell food in the areas designated by the permit, according to the ruling.
A monthly four-mile walk or run is held on the last Sunday of each month. Three 3’s Brewing Company has acted as a host where people can come with their pets or children and drop off their keys or water bottle and not even have a beer.
The Geller brothers said they have to seriously rethink their involvement with the event because it will eat up 12 of their 25 events by itself.
“I struggle with the ruling. Should we not be able to give back to our community in that sort of way?” Michael Geller said. “I have never seen a bar or restaurant open early for that.”
The ruling will definitely impact operations at the Garden State Beer Company in Galloway Township because it hosts Quizzo trivia night from 7 to 9 p.m. every Friday and Paints and Pints events anywhere from six to 12 times a year, said Jason Stairs, one of the co-owners.
Restaurants and bars, in many cases, are in favor of restrictions on microbreweries because bars and eateries are paying for costly liquor licenses. But no one takes into consideration the expenses involved with a microbrewery, such as the steel tanks and other equipment that bars and restaurants do not have, Stairs said.
“It’s going to make it harder,” Stairs said. “What the brewers association is often looking for is parity with the wineries. The wineries don’t have all these restrictions on them, and even now, cideries are opening without as many restrictions. Why all the restrictions on the brewers?”