The talking points are up and the action alert has been made.
The Garden State Craft Brewers Guild is asking New Jersey beer enthusiasts to reach out to their representatives in Trenton to support Senate bill 2870 and Assembly bill A3969.
The companion legislation would bring the rules under which the state's craft breweries operate more in line with marketplace conditions in the mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere nationally.
The guild posted the upshot of the legislation on its website on Tuesday, along with a blueprint for contacting state lawmakers to express support for the bills.
Meanwhile, the Senate version picked up a new sponsor, Sen. Donald Norcross, a Democrat from Camden County. Norcross joins Sen. Tom Kean Jr., the Union County Republican who introduced the measure at the beginning of the month. The Assembly version is sponsored by Craig Coughlin, a Democrat from Middlesex County.
Coughlin, by the way, also has homebrewers' interests in mind. He just introduced an unrelated bill, A4012, which would throw out the state's requirement that homebrewers get a permit to make their beer. (Text of that measure hasn't gone up on the Legislature's website yet.)
But back to the commercial brewing legislation.
Here's what the guild says is the aim of S2870 and A3969, which were referred to law and public safety committees in their respective chambers:
- Remove the arbitrary cap (2 brew pubs) on the amount of brewpubs a company can open in the state. (Taking away this cap means brewpub businesses wishing to expand and create jobs in the state could without any unnecessary restrictions.)
- Allow small breweries to sell beer directly to consumers from their brewery locations. (New Jersey wineries already have this privilege. Additionally, this element mirrors A3520, which was introduced back in November.)
- Allow small brewers to sell their product at 10 locations across the state directly to consumers. (New Jersey wineries have this privilege already, bringing their product directly to consumers without any harmful impact on other wine or alcohol interests. Think BYOB restaurants with this one.)
- Allow small breweries and brewpubs to offer samples to consumers both at their brewery or offsite at such things as charity events and festivals.
- Allow brewpubs to sell their beer at other bars and restaurants that they own but do not brew beer onsite, yet have a retail consumption license.
- Allow brewpubs to sell their beer off-premise in the same manner as small breweries through the wholesale distribution chain. (This would allow consumers to buy their favorite brewpub beer at other locations in the state.)
- Increase the amount of craft beer both New Jersey’s small breweries and brewpubs could produce annually.
The current regulations were enacted in the early 1990s, a time when craft brewing in New Jersey seemed faddish, more likely to remain a niche interest and not grow into a part of the state's manufacturing base.
For the state's breweries, the rules now feel like size medium T-shirt on a XL body – they don't fit.
And for any New Jerseyan who's been to Sly Fox in Phoenixville, Pa., for instance, had lunch and a draft beer, then came home, stopped at a package goods store to pick up a six-pack of Royal Weisse, the existing rules can be confusing.
"This legislation removes some of the roadblocks that craft brewers in the state currently have to take their success to the next level," says Mark Edelson, one of the owners of Iron Hill brewpub in Maple Shade. "The current legislation has been in place for about 20 years and was negotiated at a time when states were just starting to craft legislation to launch our industry.
"This helped incubate our industry in New Jersey, but as our industry has grown, we are seeking two things: a more level playing field with some of the privileges currently enjoyed by New Jersey wineries (and) a more level playing field with small breweries in neighboring states."
But this is about more than beer. There's a spinoff benefit for the state by encouraging growth, and it's not all about excise taxes, either. It's jobs, Mark says, and not just brewery jobs, but also ones like pipe fitters, truck drivers and engineers.
"The economic impact is clear. This will allow us to promote and expand our sales, which leads to more revenue for the state and more jobs in the state," he says.