Maryland craft beer bill: Small business killer

Listen to this article

It’s bad enough that in Maryland I can’t get Two Buck Chuck at Trader Joes, Kirkland Vodka at Costco, or a simple six pack of beer at Safeway. But now the wholesalers, bars, and liquor stores who support this antiquated system have gone too far: they’re trying to hurt our small local breweries.

The bill in question is HB1283, which would increase the amount of beer that could be sold in a taproom so that a massive new Guinness brewery and taproom could set up shop in the Baltimore suburbs. That part is great: the more beer, the better! However, unlike a similar bill that was supported by both Guinness and local breweries, HB1283 also reduces operating hours for small brewery taprooms, and forbids those taprooms from selling contract and collaboration brews (i.e., beer brewed by or with another brewery).

Nobody seems quite sure how HB1283 ended up as the bill put up for vote, although it sure smacks of shady backroom dealings. But the “why” is pretty clear: some powerful wholesalers, liquor stores, and bars feel threatened by breweries bypassing them by brewing and selling their own beer on-site.

Maryland craft beer bill HB1283 puts undo restrictions on small businesses.
Maryland craft beer bill HB1283 puts undue restrictions on small businesses.

In the mind of these entrenched legacy booze purveyors, forcing taprooms to close at 10 PM is a great idea, because it means people will have to go to a wholesaler-supplied bar or liquor store to buy beer for the rest of the night. Never mind that beer sold at these taprooms accounts for a microscopic sliver of the total beer sales in Maryland. And never mind that the visitors to these taprooms surely also patronize local bars and liquor stores (possibly to buy cans or bottles of a beer they first sampled at a taproom). And never mind that many savvy bar owners partner with local breweries via tap-takeovers and other such promotional events, instead of trying to put them out of business. But at least there is some vague reasoning that allows us to make sense of why this particular policy has its proponents.

What really makes no sense, however, are the contract and collaboration restrictions. The contract brewing restriction could be a brutal blow to any startup brewery that can’t brew enough beer to meet demand in its taproom, and thus must rely on other breweries to fill some of its taps. This restriction seems designed solely to kill small businesses, and it will greatly deter investors and entrepreneurs from bringing new breweries to Maryland.

Regarding the collaboration restriction, some of the most interesting beers to come out of our local breweries are from collaborations with other breweries. It’s a fun way for brewers to learn from each other and to foster a spirit of innovation, comradery, and community, where everyone wins when everyone makes great beer. What good could possibly come from forbidding taprooms to sell such beers?

Anyone who knows me or watches my YouTube videos knows that I am a huge fan of our local breweries. So this hits home, and I’m pretty pissed that my delegates in the House voted for this bill. I was actually pissed enough to email my state senators (for the first time in my life) to ask that they amend the bill. I haven’t received a response yet, but I did get added to one of their mailing lists without my consent, so that’s nice. Calling is probably a better way to go.

Bottom line: if you’re a fan of Maryland breweries, their amazing beer, the relaxed and fun ambiance of their taprooms, and their dedicated employees, I urge you to call your state senators before this bill becomes law. You can find their contact information here.

Leonard Kinsey at the Falling Branch Brewery in Harford County, Maryland.
Leonard Kinsey at the Falling Branch Brewery in Harford County, Maryland.