DENNISVILLE – At its July 26 meeting, Dennis Township Committee passed a resolution urging the governor and the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) to reconsider recent implementation of rulings pertaining to state brewery licenses.
The new rules, which went into effect July 1, make it so that breweries can only hold 25 “special events” and 52 private parties per year. They also can’t serve drinks that aren’t made on the premises, nor can they serve food or coordinate with food trucks.
The municipality has two affected breweries – Slack Tide Brewing Company and Ludlam Island Brewery.
Jason Campbell, co-founder of Slack Tide, as well as vice president of the New Jersey Brewer’s Association, said, “My personal opinion on the special ruling is that it constitutes an overreach by the ABC. The restrictions put an arbitrary cap on how we do business, and will have a chilling effect on small businesses, not only on the craft brewing industry, but other small business, like food trucks, artisans, and musicians.
“It also comes at a time when all the small businesses are trying to recover from the Covid pandemic and now record high inflation and serious supply chain issues. I hope that Gov. (Phil) Murphy will put a pause on these regulations and allow a proper legislative fix to be negotiated in the upcoming legislative session.
“I also hope that the state looks to modernize its alcohol laws, some of which haven’t been updated since Prohibition. Neighboring states like Pennsylvania and New York have very modern laws regarding breweries and distilleries, and the craft beverage industries in those states are thriving and driving millions of dollars into the economy.”
Campbell summed up the industry’s perspective by noting, “We value our relationships with bar and restaurant owners we work with, and we see that relationship as a partnership. The government should not pick winners and losers, as that is for the free market to decide. The government should facilitate a fair playing field, and these restrictions do not do that.
“The state Brewer’s Association would be more than willing to work with the Legislature and the restaurant and bar association on a fair solution that has benefits for everyone.”
According to its special ruling related to limited brewery licensees and certain activities conducted by these licenses holders, the ABC notes that craft beer brewing in New Jersey is a growing industry and that, in fact, the state is tied for first place in terms of growth in the American craft beer market.
The ABC stated it recognizes how important these businesses are to their local economies.
Nevertheless, according to the ruling, while the ABC “supports the growth and success of the limited breweries” in the state, “there are regulatory issues in this industry that must be addressed. The activities and practices of the limited breweries vary” but “in some instances, exceed the privileges of the limited brewery license.”
The ruling refers to months of discussion with various stakeholders in 2018, noting that some breweries believed their situations were not adequately represented.
“A media controversy ensued,” per the text of the ruling, and, as a result, any regulatory measure was suspended.
Since that suspension of enforcing its ruling, the ABC states that it has engaged in additional fact-finding by meeting with the state Beer Guild, the state Brewer’s Association, the state Licensed Beverage Association, the state Liquor Store Alliance and the state Restaurant Association, as well as state legislators.
As a result, and in reviewing related legislative history, the ABC reinforced its decision that the limited brewery statute and its amendments were enacted to promote the manufacture of craft beers through limited consumption privileges on the brewery premises.
According to the ABC, “By requiring consumers to take a tour of the brewery and allowing them to sample the beers produced onsite in a tasting room on the licensed premises, the expectation was that consumers would become more interested in the craft beers and would want to buy them at licensed retail consumption and distribution premises.”
Further, “limited breweries were explicitly prohibited from selling food or operating a restaurant on the licensed premises of the brewery.”
Ultimately, opined the ABC, “it (ABC) must balance the concerns of the growing limited brewery sector comprised of 100 licensees against the issues and concerns facing the bars and restaurants that collectively hold approximately 6,000 retail consumption licenses in the state.”
During Dennis Township Committee’s meeting July 26, there was spirited discussion among the governing body members about how the state has carried out its regulatory decision-making.
Committee members were critical of the ABC in taking actions that “are devastating to these businesses;” for its “short-sighted actions;” and “to make a blanket ban, as they have done, on food consumption is to up and change laws the breweries have been relying on.”
Mayor Zeth Matalucci noted that “unelected bureaucrats have really just up and pulled the rug out from these breweries, and they need to find a commonsense resolution to this situation.”
It was noted that drinking on an empty stomach is a public safety concern, and all committee members were hopeful that “some negotiations now going on at a higher level” would bring relief to these craft breweries.
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