Brewhaha Over Small Craft Brewers Put to Rest

The Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission looked pretty silly this past week, thanks to an advisory issued on the willy nilly stating that craft brewers holding farmer-brewer licenses must also grow 51 percent of the cereal grains and hops needed to produce their beer. The ruling came about after the state’s only nanobrewery, Idle Hands, applied for its license and was denied — just after licenses for startups Wandering Star, Jack’s Abby, and Mystic Brewery were approved. The 51 percent threshold — which was determined by the ABCC without any prior consultation from farmers or brewers — is nearly impossible to achieve by any of the state’s small breweries and put the proverbial knickers of the craft beer industry and its supporters in an enormous, uncomfortable twist.

And here’s why: Most brewers don’t have the ability or overhead to oversee enough farmland to meet the threshold. Idle Hands, who had a farm share and a hops supply contracted for 1.5 acres of land would have needed 11 acres total to meet the ABCC’s requirement. Furthermore, the only license alternative is a manufacturer’s license, which costs significantly more ($5,000–$7,000 versus the current $22–$100 range for a farmer-brewer license, which is based on production) and doesn’t allow on-site tastings or direct sales to customers. And let’s be honest: who wants to visit Sam Adams or Harpoon if you can’t taste (or buy) the wares? Boo, hiss!

It wasn’t long before brewers and drinkers alike lit up the Internet with tweets, e-mails, and calls for help — so much so that Rob Martin, president of the Massachusetts Brewing Guild, met with state treasurer Steven Grossman on Monday to hash out the details. The good news? We can all rest easy: The threshold has been thrown out. What’s next? A series of regulatory hearings to cull input from business owners, the public, and legislators.

“In no case do we want anyone to not be able to start, grow, and develop a business or deny the people of the Commonwealth the ability to take advantage of the craft beer industry that is becoming a part of the economy,” said Grossman in a press conference yesterday after acknowledging that the initial threshold requirement was a mistake.

So untwist your brew-pants, everyone. Craft beer is here to stay.