Last September, the craft breweries in New Jersey were shocked when the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control issued a set of tentative rules limiting their operations. After a petition with 30,000 signatures and many calls to legislators, the division suspended the rules and promised to take another look at them.
The ABC released new rules at the end of last month, and the main thing that seems to have changed in eight months is the attitude of microbrewers toward them. Even though the regulations are much like those that were suspended, beer makers now saw advantage in one new change and the certainty of knowing what the state will allow them to do.
The state’s nearly 100 microbreweries are still limited to 25 special events on their premises per year, and as of this month they have to notify the ABC 10 days in advance of them. They still can host as many as 52 private parties a year, and hold up to 12 off-premises events — the latter now providing they apply for a newly created permit.
And customers can still bring food or have takeout delivered to them at a microbrewery, which remain banned from serving food or associating with a restaurant or food truck.
The craft breweries are even limited to two televisions bigger than 65 inches, unless additional TVs are used only to show brewery information.
The one significant change welcomed by brewers was an easing of a requirement that customers take a tour and learn how beer is made before drinking it. Now repeat customers only have to take the tour once a year.
The craft brewery rules were the result of growth in the industry and concerns from much larger and more heavily invested competitors. The state’s limited brewery license costs a few thousand dollars, a pittance compared to the $350,000 to nearly $1 million that the 6,000 or so restaurants, bars and liquor stores in the state paid for their licenses.
The ABC said it will make the new rules permanent after a process that includes a public comment period.
Brewers were generally optimistic about working within the new regulatory structure, but said they needed to see how the rules actually affected their businesses.
Megan Myers, a co-founder of the Independent Brewers of New Jersey and co-owner of a craft brewery in Pitman, Gloucester County, credited the ABC with listening to the concerns of brewers and reaching a good compromise.
She added, however, that brewers will now pursue favorable changes through legislation, seeking support for that from customers and local communities.
That’s a good approach — make the best of the existing rules, see how they work in practice, and prepare to seek changes if needed or desirable. Especially in heavily regulated New Jersey.