Three days ago, I outlined the challenges facing the Maryland craft beer industry in the wake of House Bill 1283 passing.
This bill is currently slated on the senate calendar for discussion on Wednesday, March 29 at 1 p.m., in front of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee – so, call your state senators today. If you need a primer, here is the Brewers Association of Maryland’s recap of the bill’s current form, as well as why it’s bad for Maryland craft brewers.
In my original article from Monday evening, I asked where Diageo/Guinness stood in all of this. Following the passing of HB 1283, they released this statement:
“Diageo is pleased that the House of Delegates voted favorably on statewide legislation that increases the on premise [sic] sales cap to a level that keeps our project moving forward. We have said all along that we support a statewide increase, as a rising tide lifts all boats.
We are, however, concerned with a new restriction added to the bill with regard to brewing. This language is problematic to both us and members of the Maryland Brewers Association. Further, we are concerned with the limitation on tavern hours in the bill. We look forward to working to address these concerns in the Senate.”
I was provided an opportunity to speak with Dwayne Kratt, the senior director of government affairs for Diageo yesterday. What follows are Kratt’s answers to my questions.
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Question: A lot of people are feeling very confused right now, because it feels as if [HB 1283] came out of nowhere. Originally this bill had a single sponsor, and there were two other house bills [HB 1420 and HB 1391] that had more support, on top of [Senate Bill 1172] – which was a collaboration between you and the Brewers Association of Maryland. And this one just shot out of the dark.
To those who say this situation paints Diageo/Guinness as the enemy of Maryland craft, what would be your response to them?
Dwayne Kratt: It’s just plainly not true. We’ve said from day one we want a statewide bill. We said from day one we want to be part of Maryland brewing community. We’ve been welcomed very well by them. We are working toward trying to get something that allows us to locate there and helps all of us grow. We’re going to continue to forge for that.
We weren’t involved in those provisions. Our focus entirely was seeking an on-premises sales increase that would help us get our project rolling and that occurred. We had no knowledge that [HB] 1283 was going to be the vehicle, period.
We were surprised and a bit disappointed that the additional brewed and fermented language was added [to HB 1283]. That is basically our number one focus as we talk to folks in the Senate, to seek its removal.
Question: If you could say anything directly to Maryland state legislators right now, what would it be?
Dwayne Kratt: I would say please fix [HB 1283]. Especially get rid of the brewery fermented new language, so that small brewers can do what they have been doing – community contracting. That way we can do the kind of brewing operations that we plan to do.
We can deliver on the promise that we have shared, and that’s to grow the beer category and grow beer tourism and to really put Maryland on a national beer tourism destination map.
That’s what our goal is. Give us the tools.
Question: Also, you mentioned in your statement that you were concerned with the limitation on tavern hours, as well. Can you speak to that?
Dwayne Kratt: We, in our initial bill [HB 1391], asked for 10 [p.m. closing time] during the week and midnight [on the weekend]. That passed one of the chambers. We did that to try to show good faith effort to address the concern of the retailers.
We have subsequently said we could live with 10 [p.m. all week] so we’re going to try to get at least until 10. We understand and appreciate that there are some [Brewers Association of Maryland] members where that doesn’t work.
We are going to continue to press for more hours. We know that BAM is going to try to get at least 10 [p.m.] during the week and midnight [on the weekend]. We think that would be great if that were to happen.
Question: And what would you say to consumers who now – through circumstance – associate the Guinness brand with a negative stance against the Maryland craft community?
Dwayne Kratt: We would hope that they would see what our actions are. We would hope they would see we’ve said all along we want a statewide fix.
We would hope that they would hear and understand that we want to be part of the Maryland brewing community. That we’re appreciative of the welcome we have received thus far, and we want to be here and we want to help make Maryland beer category grow.
Question: Why Maryland? We’re notoriously known for not being friendly [from a legal standpoint].
Dwayne Kratt: Well, you know, it is true we have a facility there, so that’s a start. But it’s a great location. We’re eight minutes from the airport, 20 minutes from downtown, less than an hour from D.C., 90 minutes from Philadelphia, right off of major highways. It’s a pretty good location.
Also, Maryland brewers are growing, but there’s a runway there. We want to be a part of its further growth. We hope this all works out and continues.
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Recent developments in the House with HB 1283 have thrown into harsh relief the ingrained dysfunction within the state of Maryland regarding our breweries; but there is still an opportunity for legislators in the senate to do the right thing and bring Guinness into the fold.
This is a sentiment Diageo/Guinness says they share. Unfortunately, we still need to wrestle with the fact that there are some parties who wish to stand in the way of progress.
And while it’s clear from Tuesday’s submitted editorial that there are dissenters within their own ranks, the 2017 General Assembly Session Preview for Alcohol Beverage Retailers published by the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association sends a clear message:
Many argue that those clinging to the “hard-learned lessons” of the Prohibition era are doing so as a means to retain legislative and economic control over this evolving industry. Still, there is no way to confirm whether the above statement falls into that bucket.
That said, as of today, I have not received a response to my request for comment from the MSLBA – both in response to the passing of HB 1283, as well as the anonymous wholesaler editorial from earlier this week. However, this will be a story that will be explored in more detail – with or without input – at another time.
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