New Jersey’s craft breweries’ fight against event restrictions and other restrictions took a step forward Wednesday with the advancement of a bill that would repeal state regulations that took effect last summer.
Conditions set by the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control for brewery licenses limited breweries to 25 on-site events, such as trivia and music nights, and 52 private parties a year. Off-premises events, such as town and holiday festivals, were limited to 12 per year.
The rules prohibited breweries from partnering with food vendors or food trucks and placed limits on live or recorded music and the number of televisions that could be on at one time.
The New Jersey Brewers Guild applauded the decision Wednesday by the Assembly Oversight, Reform and Federal Relations Committee to advance the bill.
“Since last July, New Jersey’s breweries have been battling tough licensing restrictions that have severely limited how they can operate their small businesses – from limiting the number of events they can host to being barred from serving food or even a simple cup of coffee,” Eric Orlando, the guild’s executive director, said in a statement. “If these restrictions remain in place, craft beer in New Jersey will be in serious jeopardy and our communities will suffer.”
Orlando said the restrictions have already caused some businesses to close.
A Stockton University poll of New Jersey adults last month found 61% opposed regulations limiting the events breweries can host. Almost 80% of those polled said they supported allowing breweries to sell food.
To become law, the bill still needs to be approved by both houses of the state legislature and signed by Gov. Phil Murphy.
Under the bill, craft breweries could invite food vendors or trucks on-site, allow delivery from restaurants to their taprooms and host an unlimited number of events.
When ABC’s decision was first announced in 2018, it sparked an outcry from brewers and owners. Its implementation has been suspended while the agency studies how the rules will affect the industry and its customers.
The Hackensack City Council in August expressed its support for the city’s two breweries in a resolution and urged state lawmakers to work with the breweries to develop “sensible and fair legislative revisions” to govern the industry.
On Wednesday, the owners of Hackensack Brewing Company celebrated the committee vote with an Instagram post that showed Garden State brewers standing together at the State House.
“There are still a few hurdles to overcome, but this is definitely a step in the right direction,” they wrote.
The ABC defends the restrictions as a way to balance the interests of breweries with those of restaurant and bar owners who must pay hefty liquor license fees.
Some restaurant industry groups have expressed concern that allowing breweries to offer food or host events would hurt their business.
The Brewers Guild called for swift action on the bill as July approaches, when brewery licenses are up for renewal and lawmakers take their summer recess.
“With the summer tourism season approaching, there is an urgent need to get this measure through the Legislature and for Governor Murphy to sign it,” Orlando said. “New Jersey must exempt breweries from these harmful conditions before they are automatically reinstated on July 1.”