Friday, June 14, 2013

Senate beer booster turns attention to distilling

Nine months after the playing field was leveled for New Jersey's craft breweries, state lawmakers have taken a key step to promote another craft sector in the alcoholic beverage industry – distilling.

On Thursday, a Senate committee advanced a measure that would create a craft distillery license that would help small-batch distillers operate in the Garden State. 

Camden County Democrat Donald Norcross, a key sponsor of last year's legislation that gave craft brewers greater freedom to retail directly to the state's beer drinkers, is a sponsor of the craft distillery bill. 

The measure was advanced by an Assembly panel last month. 

Under the legislation, holders of the license would be allowed to produce up to 20,000 gallons of liquor, provided they certify that 51 percent of their raw materials were grown or purchased in the state. Licensees would be required to include on their labels "New Jersey Distilled."

The license fee would be set at $938, considerably less than the $12,500 paid by Jersey Artisan Distilling, which opened in Fairfield earlier this year to become the only distillery operating and producing liquor with the state's borders since the end of Prohibition 80 years ago. 

Creating the license category with a substantially lower fee is an attempt to kickstart an industry that the bill's sponsors believe could take off in the state much like craft brewing has and offer an economic boost in tax revenues and jobs. Additionally, a few New Jersey craft brewers have in the past expressed interest in having a parallel distilling business if it were ever possible. 

“New Jersey’s current laws make it incredibly difficult for small-scale distillers to do business in the state. With several distillers prepared to open facilities, it’s well past time that we took steps to update our antiquated laws. This will help to facilitate growth of the craft-distillery industry while supporting our agricultural community and creating new jobs,” the senator says in a statement released Thursday by the Senate Democratic majority office.

The legislation (SCS for S2286/S463, A3518 in the Assembly) now heads to the full Senate for consideration. 

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