We’ve spent a lot of time discussing what kind of damage House Bill 1283 will have on Maryland craft breweries that are currently open and operating, and for good reason – it matters, and we should be protecting them. Even the Comptroller agrees.
However, one of the arguments that is often lost in the shuffle is how bills of this ilk create a hostile legislative environment that suffocates the industry as a whole, across the state. Sure, we can say in the abstract that House Bill 1283 will probably force people to reconsider whether or not they want to stand up in Maryland at all, but how you do you actually quantify the loss of something that never was?
Well, you can’t. But here is what I can do.
Below you will find an update from someone who has opted not to start a brewery in Maryland at all, because of how the story surrounding House Bill 1283 has unfolded. And while they are choosing to remain anonymous at this time, I can confirm that what follows is the story of a local, small business opportunity that has been lost.
“… we have been planning a brewery for a while. We have held back on moving forward while working on some new concepts. During that time Maryland has proposed a new bill/amendment HB1283.
As a result of all that has gone on regarding that bill I sent the following correspondence to the Brewers Association of Maryland (BAM):
We appreciate all the effort that BAM and your team has put forward to resolve these issues as well as all the efforts prior to this aimed at advancing the brewing industry in Maryland.
We have been quietly working on some brewing tech that once complete (approx. 2 more months) we plan to go live with and then start focusing on our location and licensing. After keeping an eye on this process we have determined that regardless of the outcome Maryland is simply not a place we wish to do business in and we will be moving to another state.
The simple fact that this was even brought up as a possibility raises too many red flags about staying in Maryland. Not to mention that while I am happy for current breweries about the grandfathering it speaks volumes that Maryland does not care about new business and is not interested in fostering good relationships with new business.
At minimum, the grandfathering creates an unfair competitive advantage to existing breweries.
We feel that the other states we have researched which have much better legislation in regards to small business and especially breweries are much friendlier to new businesses and breweries and therefore should benefit from us taking our business there.
This decision wasn’t easy since we have been planning this for quite some time but if the state cannot support up and coming breweries we have no choice but to move to a state that does. There are other breweries in planning that are in the same situation. If you get a chance let your congressperson know that you oppose this bill.
Maybe other breweries will decide to stay in Maryland if this bill does not go forward.”
(Note: This letter was not given to me by the Brewers Association of Maryland.)
This is what fruit House Bill 1283 – and our state’s long history of antagonism toward craft beer – has brought to bear.
So if you’re a legislator, please do not preach to me that you are pro-small business when you vote and behave in a way that is so obviously biased toward only one or two segments of businesses in this industry – wholesalers and retailers – while breweries in your own backyards (also small business owners) are hung out to dry and left fighting for basic allowances they shouldn’t have to defend with such around-the-clock vigilance.
Unfortunately, the individual who shared the above statement with me is not incorrect: Maryland is not pro-craft brewer. Instead, we’re the “Free State” that’s “open for business,” but remains distinctly unfriendly toward small, independent, local craft brewers.
“Let’s just be honest. If [Guinness] wasn’t on the table, we would not be having this discussion. At least not on the House side. And I think that’s something we need to accept. The only reason why this is on the table is because of that economic development project.”
I know the House has been bending over backward to pat themselves on the back for the great concession of increasing the barrel limit of 500 barrels in a Class 5 brewery taproom to 3,000, but let’s slow down the party for a second.
First, on the 2,001st barrel, a Class 5 brewery would need get permission from the comptroller, and they would need to pack up their beer, send it to a wholesaler down the road, and then buy it back at a markup to sell it in their own taproom. And let’s not forget the fact that the second lowest barrel limit in the country above Maryland is 25,000 barrels in North Carolina. So, still we’re really just jockeying for last place… with ourselves.
(Correction on April 5: Thomas reminded me in the comments that this year, Georgia raised barrel limits to 3,000 in brewery taprooms – previously you could not sell any beer through taprooms in Georgia at all. That means we have the potential to join their ranks and raise the bar for what constitutes “last place” in this category, with HB 1283. North Carolina will still be the next level up at 25,000 barrels, were we to reach that threshold.)
Second, Davis’ message is clear: If the House had their way, there would be no forward movement at all for Maryland craft breweries – the only reason any ground is being ceded at all is due to Guinness’ potential project in Baltimore County. A deal that no legislator wants to be responsible for tanking.
Is it any wonder that the person above doesn’t care about the outcome of this whole mess? That, at this point, they’ve gotten the message loud and clear that Maryland legislators do not care about craft breweries or the small business owners that run them?
Congratulations, Maryland General Assembly. You did it. And you can bet that this statement is just a representation of many other decisions like this that may have already happened and will probably continue to occur.
Get Involved, Contact Your Senators
Finally, more analysis on Davis’ testimony will be available here soon.