In early January, two bills were introduced in the legislature that, if successful, would have torpedoed the state’s booming brewery industry faster than you can say “hazy IPA.” The bills required breweries to choose between making beer for on-site or off-site drinking, essentially outlawing the production brewery business model, which is generally based on distributing beer on tap and in cans or bottles, and serving it on premises at a brewery taproom.
Neither bill had a realistic chance to pass. Both were quickly scuttled after a swift and intense outcry — people tend to get angry when you threaten their source of beer — but even their proposal is troubling, and not just for beer lovers. The bills serve as reminders that sometimes politicians lend their ears to special interest groups, forgetting what’s best for the public at large.
The bills were sponsored by Rep. Brandon McGee and Sen. Doug McCrory, both Democrats representing Hartford. But the real authors of the bill seemed to be beer wholesalers, distributors and retailers, who previously voiced concerns about the efforts of some brewery owners to eliminate the existing 9-liter-per-day limit on beer sales direct to consumers.
McGee quickly disavowed his support of his bill after brewery owners and beer lovers made their feelings known. McCrory, whose press aide did not return multiple calls seeking comment for this story, hesitated before withdrawing his bill and made it clear the issue wasn’t over. “I do believe it is important going forward to have a broad public debate about how the manufacturers, distributors and retailers of beer in Connecticut can create a more equal and fair system,” he said in a statement.
During the brief period between when the bills were introduced and withdrawn, brewery owners across the state talked about the businesses that would shutter and the hundreds of jobs that would be lost if the bills became law. Sad as that might be for those who work there, such arguments miss the point. The debate shouldn’t be about what’s best for the brewing industry vs. the distributors/wholesalers etc. It should be about what’s best for the Connecticut citizen/consumer. People love going to breweries and love drinking local beer. Connecticut breweries pose no environmental, public health, or other potential threat to the state. So why would elected politicians even consider legislation that would cripple the brewing industry?
Even if we accept that the industry’s success is cutting into the business of distributors and wholesalers — a tenuous claim — it doesn’t mean legislation should be introduced to curtail breweries, any more than legislation should be introduced to limit the rights of bloggers because they hurt the business of traditional journalism publications … no matter how much easier that would make my life.
Dana Borque, president of the Connecticut Brewers Guild and co-owner of Firefly Hollow Brewing Co. in Bristol, takes the high road about the legislation when I talk with him. “I think it was just a misunderstanding … there [were] a couple of legislators that had talked to other folks in the industry and I think they were just looking to help some people and didn’t understand the ramifications of what that meant for beer production in Connecticut.”
However, the Brewers Guild has stopped pushing for no limits on direct-to-consumer sales, as some neighboring states enjoy, and is instead looking to increase limits from the current 9 liters allowed.
I get it that beer limits are something most people, even beer drinkers, don’t care about. But when the business interests of one group are put before the wishes of many in the state, it is cause for concern. After all, if it happens with beer, it can happen with more important issues. Even looking through beer goggles, that’s an ugly sight.