ANNAPOLIS — Farm brewer Tom Barse says he's preparing for the passage of House Bill 337 by shopping for more kegs and a new fermenter.
The bill currently making its way through the Maryland General Assembly would let Barse, owner of Milkhouse Brewery in Mount Airy, distribute his own beer to restaurants and bars around the region. Getting his product into more establishments will help spread the word of his ale and hopefully draw more visitors to his brewery, Barse said.
"I think it's a huge boost, potentially," he said.
Delegate Kelly Schulz has sponsored the proposal that would give farm breweries the ability to become licensed as beer wholesalers. The license would authorize the brewery to sell and deliver up to 3,000 barrels of their beer each year. The legislation would also allow farm breweries to sell beer in certain Frederick County election districts where it is currently prohibited.
Last session, Schulz passed a similar bill allowing certain types of microbreweries to self-distribute, and she said this year's proposal for farm breweries simply makes the law consistent.
Currently, Barse has to work through a wholesaler if he wants to get his beer to retailers. While the system works well most of the time, Barse said a small manufacturer like him can sometimes get lost in a wholesaler's huge warehouse.
Schulz's bill could enable Barse to expand his business, and he is gearing up to buy new equipment in anticipation of the legal change. He has also lined up several restaurants across the state that are interested in his ale, he said.
Schulz is sponsoring another bill that would permit microbreweries to sell bottles of their own beer. Currently, establishments with the Class 7 microbrewery license can sell up to 4,000 barrels of their beer each year to customers to drink on the premises. They can sell beer in growlers and prepackaged ale that is not brewed on-site.
"So they were running into this kind of weird quagmire where they could sell a six-pack of Coors Light, but they couldn't sell a six-pack of their own microbrewed product," said Schulz, R-District 4A.
She said companies like Brewer's Alley and Barley and Hops would benefit from her proposed change. Both of her bills have passed the House of Delegates and are now under consideration in the Senate.
Schulz has worked on a number of brewery-related bills during her time in office, and she said the state is getting more friendly to these small businesses. Brewers are particularly interested in legal parity with state wineries, which have fought for laws that foster their industry, Schulz said.
JT Smith, executive director of the Brewers Association of Maryland, said both of Schulz's proposals are "common-sense legal adjustments."
Over the past few years, state legislators have made significant headway on laws related to breweries, Smith added. However, he said there is plenty of room for improvement.
"Ultimately, the beer and alcohol industries are highly regulated," Smith said. "Maryland laws are highly important to supporting and allowing these businesses to grow."
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.