ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Senate voted 45-1 in favor of compromise legislation that will allow breweries to expand sales at tasting rooms in the state.
The bill — which has attracted heated testimony this session and which paves the way for Guinness to open a lager brewery in Baltimore County — would grandfather current brewers into the state’s current law, but would restrict the operating hours at new brewery taprooms.
With less than four days left in the 2017 General Assembly session, brewers and other industry representatives presented compromise legislation Friday morning that tweaks a bill passed unanimously in the House of Delegates. That bill was lambasted by the craft brewing industry.
The new bill passed quickly through the Senate floor on Friday morning. It now moves on to the House of Delegates, where lawmakers can accept that chamber’s changes or send the bill to a conference committee for further negotiations.
The Senate’s version of the bill keeps many features of the House legislation: increased samples of one pint, 12 annual special events permits and a new 3,000-barrel limit for on-site consumption in taprooms.
But that final provision is not entirely without controversy. The bill would increase the annual barrel limit — currently capped at 500 barrels — to 3,000. But brewers that sell more than 2,000 barrels in their taprooms would have to buy the additional 1,000 barrels from a wholesaler at a markup.
There are 30 licensed Class 5 breweries in Maryland, including six in Frederick County: Smoketown Brewing Station, Flying Dog Brewery, Monocacy Brewing, Olde Mother Brewing Co., Rockwell Brewery and Steinhardt Brewing Co. Breweries such as farm breweries and microbreweries are not affected by the legislation.
The amended bill sets hours for new brewery tasting rooms at 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, with a clause that allows existing breweries — and those with applications in progress as of May 1 — to maintain current limits on hours, which are set at the county level.
The amended bill also allows taprooms to serve beers that were brewed under contract with facilities outside of the main brewery.
The amended bill was agreed to by the Brewers Association of Maryland, retailers, wholesalers and representatives of Diageo, the parent company of Guinness.
Sen. Ron Young, D-District 3, cast the lone vote against the bill on the Senate floor after hearing concerns from county businesses, he said.
Young said what is needed is a complete modernization of the brewing industry and the laws governing it, although a bill with that aim failed to move forward this session. He believes breweries that are growing will come back to the General Assembly next year to seek an increase over the 3,000-barrel limit proposed this year.
“I’m sure we’ll keep seeing bills ... we talk about being a business friendly state and this is not friendly to breweries,” Young said earlier Friday morning.
Other elected officials have supported larger increases to the barrel cap this year, including Comptroller Peter Franchot (D). At a committee hearing last month, Franchot said Maryland’s barrel limit for brewery taprooms is significantly lower than it is in other states, where the next closest limit is 25,000 barrels, and many states have no limit.