Explainer: The rules on buying beer at Maryland microbreweries

August 17, 2011|By Erik Maza | The Baltimore Sun

After I blogged about the popularity of public tours at Flying Dog’s Frederick brewery, a small debate flared up on Twitter over what’s allowed and not allowed at Maryland breweries.

 Readers wondered if microbreweries could function as bars and if they had to participate in the tours to buy beer directly from the brewers. Also, what about samples?? Can you tell us about samples?

 Here are the basic rules:

In Maryland, there are two levels of licenses for breweries, one for brewpubs and one for wholesale manufacturers.

 At a brewpub, you can buy beer just the way you would at a bar. Breweries operate under more strict rules.  

 It used to be that breweries were limited to serving one 6-ounce sample during public tours, a state law that upset brewers and actually drove Flying Dog to suspend their tours.

 But since July 1, a new law signed by Governor Martin O’Malley gives the brewers more freedom in how they interact with customers.

 Now, brewers are allowed to serve up to six three-ounce samples for tour participants.

 While it used to be that brewery visitors could only buy as much as a twelve pack, now, they’re allowed to buy up to 288 ounces of beer, or a case. Catch is visitors must participate in the tours.

 Beers by the glass can be sold at the breweries, but, the brewers are limited to selling them only at special events they’re allowed to have just 12 times a year. 

 Heavy Seas’ Hugh Sisson said that part of the reason they sell even cases of beer is to accommodate customers that visit their facilities. They’re there already, so why not make their beer-buying easier.

 But, “you will never see me place an ad for selling beer out of here,” he said. For a wholesaler, that would be counterintuitive.  

 “We don’t want to be perceived as competing with retailers, the people who are paying our bills,” he said.

While a bar at brewery might be convenient, that won't be happening any time soon. The idea is not only illegal, but would cut into brewers' relationships with retailers. The most direct way to buy beer from a craft brewer remains to come to one of these 12 special events, go to one of their brewpubs, or just schlep over to the nearest bar.

 Class dismissed.

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