Limitations on Craft Breweries Put on Ice

October 5, 2018
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Chris Rotolo

By Chris Rotolo |

RED BANK – When John Arcara and his wife Lovina first envisioned launching a brewery, they talked about it as a place to bring people together to savor a beer with good conversation.

“I want it to be a craft brewery with the feel of a coffee house, where friends and family can come and enjoy great beer, as well as each other’s company and some live entertainment,” Arcara said of Red Tank Brewing, a tasting room coming soon to 77 Monmouth St.

But after recent developments, the last part of that plan is looking a bit blurry. First the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) announced new restrictions limiting the number of on-premise and off-premise events a brewery can host or attend each year, among other defined rules aimed to reel in operations that had created pub-like atmospheres without proprietors securing a full liquor license.

Then, on Oct. 2, those regulations were walked back when ABC Director David Rible announced an indefinite suspension of the restrictions.

“We want to make sure that we get this right,” Rible said in a statement. “We are committed to supporting the state’s growing craft beer industry, while also balancing the concerns of other stakeholders and ensuring compliance with state law.”

Six years ago the state issued a set of regulations that gave breweries a longer leash, allowing these businesses for the first time to serve product to customers in their tap room, as well as increasing the volume of product patrons were permitted to purchase and bring home.

Loosening these regulations was meant to stimulate the growth of New Jersey’s craft beer industry, which it has. The state currently has 92 operational breweries, with 30 startups preparing for business, including Red Tank Brewing, Ross Brewing and Triumph Brewing Company all slated to open their doors in Red Bank.

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If the suspension of this crackdown were to be lifted and enforced, ABC would limit local breweries to 25 annual events on their premises and permit them to appear at just 12 off-site events. It would also require brewery owners to notify the ABC about all types of events no less than 10 days in advance.

“I’m not a sports fan. And our business model is not centered around putting a flat screen on the wall with a game on and having people set up shop for the day to drink,” Arcara said.

“Similarly, trivia nights aren’t something we’re looking into. But I am a musician. Music is a big thing in my life. And I did plan on having acoustic acts come through and play. We have the space. It’s a 100-foot tap room. So now we would have to have less of those, which I’m not thrilled about.”

The ruling also restricts breweries from distributing menus for local eateries to hungry customers – a staple offering of limited-license breweries that are not permitted to serve food – or work with local food trucks or vendors to serve food on site. However, breweries would be allowed to offer customers snacks like pre-packaged crackers, chips and pretzels, which were restricted under previous regulations.

Middletown resident Augie Carton, who a decade ago cofounded a fixture in the Garden State craft been scene – Carton Brewing of Atlantic Highlands – said he welcomes the potential enforcement of these regulations.

“These regulations are certainly going to be hard on some people, but they provide us a better understanding of what the parameters of our business are. And that’s a good thing for a regulated business,” Carton said in an Oct. 1 interview with The Two River Times.

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Carton said his 6 East Washington Ave. tasting room has never tried to be anything more than that. There are no televisions and no food, just revered craft beer and a platform to speak about it.

“We view our tasting room as a place to have our discussion with neighbors about the weird stuff we brew. We like to be able to explain the weird things we’re doing and we can do that in our room,” Carton said. “We serve you a $5 flight, we talk to you about each beer and we send you out into the community to eat and drink our beer at other establishments. So nothing is really changing for us.”

If anything, Carton says his operation will benefit from having clearly defined regulations about events.

“We were told by regulators they didn’t want events in our rooms, so rather than fight it, we just avoided it for years. Now I know every other week I can book a birthday or retirement party or a fundraiser with our local police. This is new business we can get into.”

The suspension of these regulations has come with support from state Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who have promised legislative action to overturn any extensive restrictions implemented by the ABC.

During an Oct. 1 Facebook town hall, Gov. Phil Murphy said the ABC regulations “took him by surprise,” and said he was unsure if these restrictions were a “sensible step to take.”

Rible has not placed a timeline on the length of this suspension.

This article was first published in the Oct. 4 – Oct. 10, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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