ANNAPOLIS — A “brewhaha” is brewing in Annapolis over brews.
Lawmakers in Maryland’s Senate and House of Delegates are moving forward in different ways on two bills to let Maryland’s Class 5 breweries — such as Flying Dog and Monocacy Brewing Company in Frederick — increase the number of barrels they may pour annually for on-site consumption.
One bill is preferred by the Brewers Association of Maryland and its members. The other is preferred by the state’s alcohol retail and beer wholesalers associations.
What’s at stake is who serves the beers that are drunk in Maryland: a brewery taproom, a restaurant or a store clerk. And is a pint consumed at a brewery a pint that’s not consumed elsewhere?
But supporters like Frederick County Sen. Ron Young, D-District 3, said expanding sales at breweries could lift all boats.
“Someone who likes Flying Dog is not going to go just to Flying Dog to drink it. They are also going to order it at restaurants or buy it at the store,” Young said.
He wants to see the state’s barrel limit for Class 5 breweries — currently set at 500 per year — raised as high as possible this General Assembly session.
The bill preferred by the brewers was introduced by Republican Sen. Gail Bates and heard by a Senate committee on Thursday. The competing measure was already passed by a House committee and could be the subject of a floor debate on Friday.
The bill before the House of Delegates is one of several this year aimed at changing the liquor laws for breweries. The bill, sponsored by Delegate Talmadge Branch, D-Baltimore city, would increase the barrel limit for the affected breweries to 2,000 barrels. It also would add a provision that would let breweries pour an additional 1,000 more — if the beer is first sold to a wholesaler and then bought back.
The bill also cuts back significantly on breweries’ hours, requiring them to close by 6, 7 or 9 p.m., depending on the type of license.
Kevin Atticks from the brewers association said its members recognize there needs to be a concession on hours if the barrel limit is increased, but the hours in Branch’s bill are too narrow. He said nine of Maryland’s 30 Class 5 breweries have hours beyond those allowed by the bill and the hours would force Flying Dog to end its summer concert series.
The bill from Bates stems from a local Baltimore County bill introduced this year to accommodate plans from British beer producer Diageo, which wants to open a large brewery that would become home to Guinness Blonde American lager and a series of experimental microbrews.
Marta Harding, a lobbyist for Diageo, said the mega producer decided earlier this session to support a statewide expansion of the earlier Guinness bill, which would have applied only in Baltimore County.
“We are completely supportive of a statewide approach to this issue,” Harting said. “We agree that there’s no reason that it should only be in Baltimore County and we support every brewer in the state having the same rules.”
The Bates bill would also scale back brewery hours, but would allow them to stay open until 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and midnight on Friday and Saturday. But it increases the statewide barrel cap from 500 to 5,000.
Nicholas Manis, representing the Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association, told lawmakers that 5,000 barrels equals 1,653,333 12-ounce beers.
“That’s a lot of beer,” he said, noting that the fourfold increase in the House bill was already significant.
Planning for the future
Ben Savage, the chief marketing officer at Flying Dog, was on hand for the testimony in Annapolis on Thursday.
He supports Bates’ bill, though he said 5,000 barrels is not a level that most of Maryland’s breweries will meet.
Knowing the new statewide limits by the end of the General Assembly session on April 10 will help Flying Dog complete its expansion plans, Savage said.
Its current taproom is limited to 96 people, but its future facility could be built much larger.
“The barrel increase is essential for our growth, particularly in our new location,” Savage said.