Beerspectives: Maryland Hates Craft Beer

craft beer maryland guinness bill bad for brewers

Annapolis has a long history of alcohol influence.

During Prohibition, the state house had its own bootlegger and it has only gotten cosier from there.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post pointing out that the Maryland legislature was spitting in the face of local brewers by making a deal with Guinness, which is owned by Diageo, a European liquor conglomerate. My beef wasn’t with Diageo, but rather with the fact that legislation, which the local brewers couldn’t get done was pushed forward at the behest of an international company. The short version was that Guinness wanted to make more beer than was currently allowed, and Maryland lawmakers couldn’t wait to accommodate them.

When the local craft breweries asked to be included in the expansion of production, the legislature decided to punish them. The bill that passed the House of Delegates, HB 1283, increases the amount of beer a brewery could make, but it cuts their permitted hours of operation significantly and also restricts beer sold at a brewery’s taproom to beer which is produced at the brewery. The first draft actually required breweries to close at 7 p.m. on weekends. The final bill requires them to close at 9 p.m Sunday through Thursday and 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The legislature essentially said, “If you are going to want the same privileges as a foreign conglomerate, you will have to sacrifice your profits.”

Just as it did during Prohibition, the Maryland House of Delegates is taking orders from the alcohol lobby at the expense of the people who live and work in the state. Brewers, their evening employees, the local towns they serve and the ancillary industry (think food truck vendors and bands) are all less important than the liquor multinationals, who at this point seem to be calling the shots in Annapolis. Hell, the State Comptroller said it isn’t even a well-intentioned effort.

On the face of it, and mostly because delegates are too dumb to do anything other than repeat what they’re told, the retailers say they are worried because beer sales are down (actually, Budweiser volume is down, but no professional politician has ever let common sense or facts stand in the way). Wholesalers always are looking to make it harder for people to buy local beer, so it is no surprise that they are opposed to any legislation that makes it easier for craft beer to succeed without tithing to the three-tier gods.

I’ve been told that the order came from on high (party leadership on both sides) and that this despicable deal is what the industry wanted. The fact that the bill reducing hours for local businesses passed unanimously ought to call into question both the intellect and the honesty of every coward who “serves” in the House of Delegates. You know how businesses are always clamoring for legislation that limits how long they can be open.

In the end, that is the really distressing part. Local breweries put a ton of money into local communities, but very little money into lobbying efforts. The fact that every delegate in the state of Maryland sold their local businesses down the river just because the leadership told them to should terrify every small business owner in the state.

Now, it is an uphill fight in the state senate to see if that chamber is any more interested in local business than its larger, dumber juniors when it reviews the bill March 29th. Hopefully, the state doesn’t establish a norm in this situation: punish businesses who become successful on their own, without sending cash to Annapolis. Stranger things have happened.

Concerned craft beer drinkers and brewers can find and contact their Maryland Senators here.

Drink what you like and be happy.

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Tony Russo has been a print and digital journalist for the better part of the 21st century. He writes for ShoreCraftBeer.com as well as several destination websites and has published two beer books for History Press. He also produces "Beer with Strangers" a weekly homebrew and beer culture podcast. Tony lives in Delmar, Maryland, with his wife and the only of his four daughters who hasn't moved out. Together they try and keep their dog and cat comfortable.

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