ANNAPOLIS — Amendments are flowing as Maryland lawmakers decide how to increase the number of barrels that breweries can pour for customers each year.
With less than two weeks left in the 2017 General Assembly session, brewers are aiming to heavily amend a bill passed by the House of Delegates that would increase their barrel limits, but curtail hours.
Some of Maryland’s 30 Class 5 breweries affected by the bill — including Frederick’s Flying Dog and Attaboy Beer — have said the House bill would hurt their businesses.
The Brewers Association of Maryland proposed a series of amendments to the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday. Representatives of a planned Guinness brewery in Baltimore County had their own set of proposed amendments, while Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) and others said the committee could play a role in boosting the industry by simply increasing the barrel limit, then walking away.
The debate has brewed in the General Assembly since the start of this session, when a handful of bills that would benefit the industry were under consideration. The House of Delegates unanimously passed House Bill 1283, which increased the barrel limit to a maximum of 3,000 barrels, but immediately attracted criticism for other restrictions.
Under the House bill, breweries could generally serve 2,000 barrels a year. If a brewery were to approach that limit, it could apply to purchase an additional 1,000 barrels of its beer from a wholesaler.
The bill also curtails brewery hours to 9 p.m. closings Sunday through Thursday and 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The brewers association said nine of its members operate beyond those closing times, which are currently set by county liquor licensing boards rather than through state law.
As written, the bill would also stop “contract brewing,” a common practice in which breweries have their beer produced to their specifications at an off-site location because of capacity issues.
The brewers association said its board agreed on amendments this week that would address some of those concerns, and which also have support from the wholesalers and retailers associations. The amendments, which were not submitted to the committee in writing, would “grandfather” existing brewery hours and allow contract brewing for up to 20 percent.
Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Brewers Association of Maryland, said the amendments do not perfect the House bill, but allow a path forward for the industry.
“It was one step forward with the barrel increase and two steps backward,” he said of the bill as it originally passed the House.
Delegate Talmadge Branch, D-Baltimore city, and Delegate Dereck E. Davis, D-Prince George’s County, defended the original bill passed out of a House committee that Davis chairs. For all the criticism it attracted, they said, the bill also increased the state’s barrel limit sixfold, let breweries offer larger, pint-sized samples, and carved out 12 special event permits for up to three days each year when provisions of the bill, including the earlier closing time, would not apply.
“This bill is an attempt to help the industry. And not hurt it at all,” Branch said.
Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner (D) said the Senate committee should consider amendments to increase the barrel limit to allow breweries to grow, then appoint a work group to examine other issues that emerged during this year’s debate.
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.
Carly Ogden, co-owner of Attaboy, testified Wednesday in favor of amendments to the bill.
Ogden said she and her husband moved from California to start their business in Frederick, investing their life savings and loans into a business plan that centers on taproom sales and a 10-year lease.
“For us, this is a scary moment, where you’re telling us our business plan is up in the air,” she testified.
Ogden said after the hearing that she viewed the operating hour restrictions and barrel limits as a “red flag” that could thwart the state’s craft brewing industry into the future.
Some members of the committee seemed receptive to the proposed amendments.
Sen. Ron Young, D-District 3, said he is open to amendments to the House bill and is focused on seeing a bill passed this year.
Also on the committee is Republican Sen. Gail Bates, who introduced a now-stalled bill earlier this session that would have increased the taproom barrel cap to 5,000 and allow longer hours than the House bill.
Young is chairman of the subcommittee that addresses issues related to alcoholic beverages. He said he hopes to gather members for a discussion on the future of the bill as early as this week.