New rules for NJ breweries are in effect — event limits, food restrictions, and more
As the craft beer industry in New Jersey warns residents to expect a more restricted experience, a state lawmaker has vowed to introduce legislation that would counter license conditions for breweries that took effect on July 1.
The main sticking point within the special ruling from the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control is an annual limit on the number of events that New Jersey breweries can host and attend.
The rules, aimed at ensuring that these establishments with special licenses don't receive all the same privileges as standard bars, set the on-site event limit (events such as live music or trivia night) at 25, and the off-site event limit at 12 (not including beer festivals).
"Breweries are going to have to be choosy about what types of events they host or not," said Eric Orlando, executive director of the Brewers Guild of New Jersey. "All of the things that folks got used to for a long period of time at breweries will likely be restricted."
Industry professionals were not surprised by the July 1 change — the guidelines were originally announced in 2019 and were placed on the back burner during the pandemic — but Orlando said he had hoped for some modifications to the license conditions so breweries could "operate with a little bit more ability this summer."
"Being that these conditions are now in place, a lot of the breweries in the state of New Jersey are going to have to contend with these, and honestly, it's going to be a tough summer for them to get through," Orlando said.
The rules also clarify that breweries may have menus from local restaurants on site and permit patrons to receive meal deliveries, but brewery collaborations with specific vendors or food trucks are not permitted.
Breweries must still give patrons a "tour" before serving them, but the rules state that repeat customers only need to receive this tour once per year, as long as the brewery maintains a record of tour participants.
"The Legislature never intended the limited licenses to give craft breweries the same privileges of a consumption venue, such as a sports bar or restaurant," the ABC said in 2019 with its special-ruling announcement. "In recent years, however, a growing number of craft breweries began serving alcohol well beyond what the limited licenses allowed or ever envisioned. This resulted in complaints of unfair competition from bars and restaurant owners who hold licenses allowing full retail privileges."
An initial attempt to overhaul brewery rules in 2018 was immediately met with backlash from the industry and a media controversy, prompting the state to suspend its ruling.
Breweries that fail to follow the updated license conditions are subject to financial penalties and could have their license suspended or revoked.
In response to Friday's issuance, state Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cape May, said he will introduce legislation to scrap the latest rules.
“These disastrous and destructive new conditions are an affront to the freedoms that our breweries should enjoy in pursuing their goals and trying to find a place in our state’s economy,” Testa said. “In my opinion, the ABC fell far short of treating our local breweries fairly, which we must address with new legislation to aid these small businesses.”
The Legislature is on break for the summer. Testa said he believes his legislation can be introduced at the next Senate quorum.