Brewery Backlash Sidelines Craft Beer Regulation

The bill was aimed at barring breweries from selling beer if they also distribute it for purchase elsewhere.

Over the course of about 24 hours, the backlash over legislation that would cut back on what craft breweries would be allowed to do in Connecticut led to it being shelved. A second, similar measure, remains as a possibility in the General Assembly.

“I’ve asked that we hold off on the bill. In our world, we kill it, and really sit down and talk about ways we create an even playing field for those package stores that may not feel like they’re a part of the evolution of the beer industry,” said Rep. Brandon McGee, (D – Hartford), who sponsored one of the bills.

McGee’s proposal was aimed at barring breweries from selling beer if they also distribute it for purchase elsewhere. The bill even lays out that the purpose is to, "eliminate the ability of breweries to sell beer in competition with restaurants."

McGee, who also announced his bid to run for mayor of his hometown, the City of Hartford, earlier in the week, said he did not expect the backlash over social media and to his office over the bill, and says he plans to discuss the matter before moving anything forward.

"Man, I didn’t realize how organized the beer community is, but the good thing about our democratic process is that we as legislators, we listen, and I’m hearing from all of them," he said.

Curt Cameron, who has owned Thomas Hooker Brewery in Bloomfield since 2006, was one of the earliest crafter breweries in Connecticut to distribute his beer to local restaurants and for retail sale. Cameron also has a tasting room in Hartford where some beer is also brewed.

He says McGee’s measure, and another sponsored by Hartford Senator Douglas McCrory, would lead him to a difficult decision.

"It means I have to choose between my fantastic wholesale and retail partnerships, and I have to choose between them and closing my tasting room in Bloomfield, which would mean no more non-profit fundraisers and events and no more consumers coming in to taste beer, and in our Hartford location, completely shut it down," Cameron said.

McCrory actually represents the part of Bloomfield where Thomas Hooker is located, and he never reached out to Cameron for his opinion on his legislation.

McCrory’s proposal, which he says he has no plans on shelving, would require breweries to, "choose between off-premise or on-premise sale and consumption."

What makes craft breweries so popular is that guests can enjoy their beer in the same place where it was brewed. The Brewer Association, a national trade group that works on behalf of independent breweries, counts 84 craft breweries in Connecticut.

McCrory, a Democrat, says he is concerned for the impact that crafter breweries have had on smaller package stores.

He says the industry has grown at a speed faster than regulations could keep up.

"It’s getting out of hand and we need to get back to the initial purpose and that’s what the original purpose of the bill was for and for the people it supports," McCrory.

"Since the market has changed, the policy has to change, the rules (have) to change and they should be in place so we can have a level playing field for everybody that’s in play," he said.

Cameron says the craft brewing community is open to discussions on changes to their business, but wants to be included in those conversations, especially when it’s his own senator proposing an idea.

"I think it was a little unfortunate that my state senator for both Bloomfield and Hartford was the one who really put in this legislation without talking to us and I hope this was just an oversight and we can start a dialogue," Cameron said.

McCrory says if there is any fallout, it’s only going to be positive, and says he and his proposal would not be responsible for putting any small business out of business.

"No, I’m going to be the guy who expands craft breweries in Connecticut so that all of them can open and work in a fair capacity," he said.

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