By now, you’ve heard New Jersey’s Bureau of Alcohol Beverage Control has spiked those dumbass, new brewery tasting room rules. Y’know, the ones that – among many other things – prohibit breweries from displaying menus from the local pizza shop and require a permit to turn the Eagles game on TV.
The agency will go back to the drawing board and try to come up with something a little less insane.
Here’s the problem in a nutshell, as noted on the very first page of ABC director David Rible’s order <PDF>:
The legislature, he correctly says, “intended to promote the craft beer industry and create a demand for these products by the consuming public. The expectation was that the increased demand for craft beers would generate greater retail sales of these products at licensed consumption and distribution premises.” [My emphasis.]
Through this statement, Rible either ignores or is unwilling to address the obvious fact that the craft beer industry has changed since the original rules were written in 2012.
Five thousand new breweries have opened nationwide since then, and most of them have little interest in selling beer at other retail locations. There’s too much competition for tap handles and shelf space. And, besides, at their scale, selling beer through a middleman is a money-loser. Small breweries enjoy far greater profit margins by selling directly from their tasting rooms.
Moreover, tasting rooms are the single, best way for a new brewery to build its brand. (And, as the ABC finally learned when 25,000 people spoke up, many beer drinkers actually prefer brewery tap rooms to bars.)
Sure, this conflicts with the holy three-tier concept of beer distribution. But so what? What is the public interest in an outdated regulatory system that protects only those who can afford costly liquor licenses while impeding economic growth?
If the aim is to promote the craft beer industry, Rible – and more importantly the legislature – will have to rethink the “expectation” that retailers will see greater sales. It ain’t gonna happen until these startups grow large enough to benefit from wholesale sales outside of their taprooms.
And they won’t grow if these small breweries can’t do simple things to attract business. Y’know, like music, yoga classes and, for crissakes, food.