New Jersey ABC Sets Restrictions on the Number of Events Craft Breweries Can Host

The New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) issued a revised special ruling earlier this week aimed at limiting the number of annual events breweries can host in their taprooms.

Under the ruling issued Tuesday, the ABC said the state’s craft breweries can hold up to 25 “special events,” 25 “social affairs,” and 52 “private parties” annually inside their taprooms. Additionally, breweries are now allowed to sell their beer at 12 events a year outside of their taprooms.

Citing concerns of bar and restaurant owners, the ABC first announced plans to impose restrictions on the number of events craft breweries could host in September 2018. The agency suspended that ruling days later amid pressure from craft brewers, state lawmakers and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.

In Tuesday’s revised ruling, the ABC said the new guidelines are an effort to “balance the concerns” of the state’s 100 licensed craft breweries with those of the state’s 6,000 retail licenses in an effort to create “stability” and “foster realistic competition.”

ABC acting director James B. Graziano, via a press release, said the revised ruling was drafted after several months of meetings with lawmakers and representatives from the New Jersey Brewers Association, the Brewers Guild of New Jersey, the New Jersey Licensed Beverage Association, and the New Jersey Restaurant Association.

“We believe the activities permitted under this Special Ruling strike a fair and appropriate balance between the interests of full retail license holders, such as restaurants and bars, and the craft brewing industry,” Graziano said. “Will everyone be satisfied with them? Probably not. But at the end of the day, the Division’s job is to set limits on what licensees are entitled to do under existing laws and to level the playing field so that all limited breweries can compete fairly with each other.”

Among the provisions included in the new ruling:

  • Starting June 3, craft breweries will have to provide the ABC with 10 days notice before hosting a “special event.” Special events are defined as one-day events, including “live championship sporting event broadcasts, live amplified music or DJ performances.” Special events also include any event advertised or promoted in the media, including social media outlets, by the brewery or a vendor on its behalf.
  • Trivia nights or “quizzo,” craft making, animal adoption events or yoga classes are not considered special events, unless they are advertised or promoted by the brewery.
  • Breweries are also able to host 25 social affairs, which the ABC defined as “civic, religious, educational, charitable, fraternal, social or recreational” events.
  • Craft breweries are also allowed to sell their beer at 12 civic and community events outside of their taprooms by purchasing a $200 per day permit from the ABC. During those events, customers can purchase up to 72 oz. of beer for off-site consumption.
  • Craft breweries are also required to give repeat customers a brewery tour once a year and maintain records of those tours.

The ABC said it would begin “immediately” enforcing the tour requirements and the ban on craft breweries “operating a restaurant and selling food.” However the ABC said it would consider the other provisions “guidelines,” and the agency would not strictly enforce them until June 2020, “barring flagrant or repeated violations.”

Leaders from both of the state’s trade groups — the New Jersey Brewers Association and the Brewers Guild of New Jersey — called the latest ruling a “mixed bag.”

Brewers Guild of New Jersey executive director Eric Orlando said while the ruling gives craft brewers some new privileges, it also adds more restrictive provisions.

“This is one of those things that we’re going to have to continue to work with state regulators and the Legislature on to get clarity,” he said. “And it might open up the box that there might have to be some changes to the underlying statute to lock in some of these different rights and privileges for breweries, so that we have a greater level of predictability going forward to what you can and can’t do as a limited brewery.”

New Jersey Brewers Association executive director Alexis Degan said her organization plans to lobby lawmakers to remove the limits on the number of events breweries can host in their taprooms, as well as repeal other “antiquated” liquor laws.

“It’s not a perfect system, but given the director is working with the statute, it’s a clearer system of what’s being expected,” she added. “It’s guidelines, so breweries don’t get tripped up, and I think, in general, it’s less burdensome than it looks on paper.”

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