Chasing beer-makers out of state Archaic law: Restrictions on brewpubs prompt some to make their suds elsewhere.

April 28, 1996

IT IS an archaic law that stems from post-Prohibition times, but it is costing Maryland valuable manufacturing jobs. The problem is that a 1937 law, limiting the production of beer by restaurant-based brewers, is totally out of sync with market trends in the 1990s. Unless this law is changed, Maryland could see some of its popular local brewers move to more friendly states. A budding local industry in brewpubs would never advance beyond infancy.

The problem is that restaurant-breweries can't sell more than 10,000 barrels a year of their suds. But it takes roughly three times that amount in beer sales for a brewer to make a go of it. In other words, this antiquated law is suffocating flourishing brewpubs.

Already, Hart Brewing Co. of Seattle has scrapped plans for a brewpub in Sparrows Point. That cost Maryland a $5 million investment and 75 manufacturing jobs. A number of local brewers are now looking at out-of-state sites and may abandon Maryland completely.

None of our neighboring states places a volume restriction on brewpubs. Consequently, Virginia and Pennsylvania craft breweries are major threats to ours.

Maryland must change with the times. The 60-year-old system of separating pub owners, brewers and wholesalers never envisioned micro-breweries attached to trendy restaurant-pubs. The law must be made flexible enough to accommodate this 1990s reality.

A bill raising the volume limit on brewpubs to 100,000 barrels a year failed in the General Assembly this year after Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein said the status quo was working well. The law does, indeed, function well in most cases. But not for brewpubs.

Gov. Parris Glendening has made it a priority to make Maryland business-friendly. He should take the lead in welcoming and encouraging brewpubs. This could turn into big business: In California, there are 159 craft breweries, 90 in Colorado and 63 in Oregon. That translates into a considerable number of well-paying jobs. We can't afford to actively discourage brewing businessmen from settling here.

Pub Date: 4/28/96

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