Law would let you drink beer without a tour at NJ breweries
If you're a frequent visitor to breweries in New Jersey, you're likely familiar with the law that requires you be provided a tour of the facility before purchasing a pint or flight.
Under legislation approved by an Assembly committee on Thursday, that required tour would be scrapped.
While New Jersey craft brewers say the move would put them on a level playing field with breweries in other states, where tours are not required, others in the alcohol industry claim the move would also put breweries on the same level as New Jersey's bars and restaurants — and that was never the intent for the tasting rooms.
"If (customers) want to know information, if they're curious, we're there for them. But having this mandate every single time they come in — I don't know why it's there," said Mike Skudera, co-owner of Jughandle Brewing Co. in Tinton Falls. "How many times do you want the same tour?"
Over the past few months, according to the New Jersey Brewers Association, a number of breweries have been cited — including a $1,000 fine — for failure to give a tour to guests.
Skudera noted state law also prohibits New Jersey's 80-plus craft breweries from serving food, wine or mixed drinks.
But many of these spots "have attempted to turn themselves into sports bars," according to New Jersey Wine and Spirits Wholesalers Executive Director Jeff Warsh, who claims tasting rooms throughout the state are lined with 50-inch televisions.
"There are regulars. They've become bars," Warsh said.
"If you want to have regulars, you go out and get a plenary license on the same level playing field as any other bar or restaurant in your town," added Tim Martin, representing the Beer Wholesalers' Association of New Jersey.
Craft alcohol producers, Martin said, represent an exception to the three-tier system that governs the rest of the industry in the state. While every other player must be either a producer, wholesaler or retailer, a craft producer can be all three.
Their exemption in 2012, he said, was based on the public policy rationale that they would educate the public on the then-fledgling industry.
"This bill, by eliminating the tour requirement, eliminates the public policy rationale, while preserving the exemption," he said.
While a full-fledged liquor license could run a buyer, depending on the community, as little as $30,000 or as much as $1 million, the license for a brewery producing 50,000 to 300,000 barrels annually comes at a price tag of $1,250 to $7,500 per year, based on production rates.
The state Office of the Attorney General said it does not believe license costs would change if this proposed change were to become law.
Legislation to scrap the tour requirement was approved 5-0 by the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at email@example.com.