House Bill 1283 has left an angry, but battle-weary Maryland craft beer community in its wake.

Though Del. Dereck E. Davis – Economic Matters Committee Chair – has since spoken out against Del. Charles Barkley’s statements made to me regarding the bill’s remarkable ascension, there is no mistaking or sidestepping its punitive intent against Maryland craft brewers.

Even though the end result was an actual “compromise” – which included some grandfathering language around operating hours, the preservation of contract brewing and more – the bell could not be unrung on the original spirit of what was formerly a narrowly-scoped repeal bill designed to roll back the operating hours of brewery taprooms for Class 5 production breweries due to unsubstantiated claims of “interference.”

As the Brewers Association of Maryland said in a statement late last week:

“This process of negotiations—to address the prospect of major restrictions being thrust upon the industry—has been a gut-wrenching experience for members who simply wanted to follow their entrepreneurial dream of opening a craft brewery in Maryland. After negotiations on the bill in the Senate, we reluctantly support the passage of HB1283 as amended by the Senate with the understanding that breweries will continue on their path to modernize Maryland’s beer laws in the years ahead.”

Put another way, this is not a bill anyone is proud of; this was a compromise entered into out necessity, to make the best of what was a terrible “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario.

So, now that this bill will be a matter of law, where do we go next?

Franchot to Continue His Fight for Maryland Craft Beer

As you may recall, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (our state’s alcohol regulator) was clear about his opposition to HB 1283:

“As it stands currently, HB 1283 is a bad bill. It’s not a compromise. It’s not a meeting in the center. It’s not a well-intentioned effort. HB 1283 drives a stake through the heart of the craft brewing sector in Maryland … I think the bill overall – and I don’t mean to overstate it – but the bill overall is a travesty.”

It was a sentiment Franchot later expressed at length in his testimony in front of the Senate, before the bill was ultimately passed.

However, he has opted to turn his disappointment regarding the treatment of Maryland craft brewers this legislative session into action.

As many would probably agree, Maryland laws pertaining to the manufacturing, distribution and sales of beer are in need of review and reform.

Later today, Franchot will announce the formation of “Reform on Tap” – a task force effort that will study and discuss the issue this Spring and Summer. The ultimate goal is to create model legislation to reform the laws to be introduced the following year.

How Will “Reform on Tap” Work?

With Franchot at the helm, this task force will represent all industry stakeholders – with brewers having a seat at the table from the very beginning.

The membership will also include consumers, restaurateurs, distributors, retailers and consumer advocates. They will research what other states are doing and explore what needs to be done to bring Maryland onto a level playing field.

Under the mantle of accessibility and transparency, all meetings will be open to the press and will be held in all regions of the state. There will also be at least two town hall meetings where the public will be invited to share thoughts and ideas.

Again, the objective is to create a framework that benefits Maryland craft brewers, consumers and larger businesses – all of which contribute to an industry that has the potential to create even more jobs, generate revenue and empower communities across the state through investment.

Editor’s Update: April 11, 2017

Comptroller Franchot has since released this statement on Facebook:

The events that transpired in Annapolis this session were a jarring confirmation that the State of Maryland’s beer laws are antiquated, dysfunctional, anti-small business and anti-consumer.

Furthermore, the bare-knuckled treatment to which our craft brewers were subjected sent a terrible message that this innovative industry – one that is creating jobs, strengthening our economy, attracting tourists and giving back in so many ways to local communities – isn’t respected or welcomed here in Maryland.

For the sake of our economy, business reputation and our quality of life, this has to change. It will change. The fight for the future of the Maryland craft beer industry – and for everyone who benefits from the hard work of these amazing men and women – starts today. Stay tuned.

You can also follow the Reform on Tap task force on Facebook.