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NJ ABC Issues Then Suspends New Rulings on Tasting Rooms

NJ ABC Issues Then Suspends New Rulings on Tasting Rooms

New Jersey craft beer lovers have a voice, and apparently it’s being heard. A week after issuing a Special Ruling regarding Limited Brewery licenses and Tasting Rooms, the state’s ABC Alcohol Beverage Control Director David Rible has suspended its enforcement.
The ruling stirred up a hornets nest in the state’s craft brewing world with such stipulations as limiting events such as trivia nights, open mic and yoga classes to 25 a year and banning food trucks and even restaurant menus. Opposition to the new rules quickly spawned a SAVE NJ BEER campaign and an online petition gathered 28,000 signatures.

Since 2012 when legislation was approved to allow tasting room sales in limited breweries, craft brewing in the state grew in leaps and bounds, in concert with most of the rest of the country (the number of breweries in the Garden State just passed the 100 mark). Rible stated that the Legislature never intended the limited licenses to give craft breweries the same privileges as a consumption venue, such as a sports bar or restaurant that require a full liquor license.
Some retail licensees have been crying foul as tasting rooms tested the limits of the new law, including live entertainment and broad interpretations of the “Take a tour first” requirement.

As well as limiting social activities, the aborted ruling also sought to limit private parties to 52 per year. But, just to add another layer of bureaucracy, permission for parties and events needs to be applied for by an online process. The state also sought to require a post-event accounting of every private event which may include “the guest list and the amount of alcoholic beverages sold.”
The ruling did however propose to allow breweries to sell pre-packaged snacks and water as well as allowing customers to bring in their own food. Also on the plus side for breweries, they could now hold monthly (12 per year) promotions off-premise.

Patio tasting at Alementary Brewing.

Brewery tasting rooms have become wildly popular, not just in New Jersey, but all around the country. They have provided gathering places and can serve as a hub for community activities and fundraising especially in areas of revitalization.
Retail establishments complain that limited brewery licenses can be obtained for a few thousand dollars whereas they have to pay sometimes hundreds of thousand dollars for a liquor license. Brewery owners counter that they have to invest hundreds of thousands in their brewing equipment.

Small breweries are either just currently in vogue or they are the wave of the future. In what some were calling a regressive ruling that will hurt an upcoming industry in NJ, the state is trying to fit a new phenomenon into an outdated grid.
The real problem is NJ’s archaic liquors laws (different from other states), installed after prohibition, that turn liquor licenses into expensive pieces of real estate. I’m not surprised that bar owners are upset that they are losing business to upstart breweries when they had to fork over an arm and a leg for a liquor license. It’s time NJ looked at a new system for licensing.

In suspending the ruling Rible said the “ABC will confer with the same stakeholders it previously consulted and invite other parties, including those craft breweries most affected by the Special Ruling, to further understand their concerns and ways to address them within the confines of the existing legal framework and limitations set by the limited brewery licenses.” His agency will also confer with legislators to determine if any adjustments to the limited brewery license are warranted, he added.

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