Restaurant group lists concerns with brewery license changes

The New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association wants to make clear our concerns with the recently announced changes to the state’s Limited Brewery License. The proposed changes would have a dramatic impact on our licensed establishments. Despite the outcry by small breweries that they are being “restricted” by these rules, the fact is that they are being allowed to provide amenities that are not supported by the statute. In fact, these new rules would allow breweries to operate more like a Class C licensee than a brewer of beer. If permitted, the changes would greatly impact the licensed restaurant community.

Most would agree that the statute lacks certain specificity in some areas; however, it is important that we all are clear on what the statute does allow small breweries to do:

  • Brew beer, not to exceed 300,000 barrels per year;
  • Sell and distribute to wholesalers and retailers;
  • Sell at retail and permit on-premise consumption in conjunction with a tour;
  • Sell at retail for off-premise consumption.

The statute goes on to state:

  • The seller may not serve food on the licensed premise;
  • The license fee is based upon the amount of beer brewed.

Despite the straightforward phrasing of the statute, small breweries are catering events and selling their products at festivals and other venues. Many breweries allow food trucks to park outside their premises in order to provide customers with a restaurant experience, again, despite the intent of the statute.

The NJRHA opposes the regulations, because they would allow small breweries to operate much like restaurants that have purchased Class C liquor licenses — the difference being that each brewery spends a minimum of $1,250 on a license and can operate without the same regulatory oversight.

Small breweries will be permitted to do the following:

  • Sponsor 25 “special events,” such as paint-and-sip nights, trivia nights, live televised sporting events and live music nights (two per month);
  • Qualify for 12 special permits a year to sell their products off brewery premises at events such as festivals, athletic events and other civic events (one per month);
  • Hold up to 52 private parties a year, such as birthdays, weddings and anniversaries (one every weekend);
  • Sell snacks to their guests, creating a bar-like atmosphere.

As you can see, the regulations greatly expand what small breweries are lawfully permitted to do. The impact of these rules will have a significantly negative effect on the restaurant sector. It remains our focus to continue to be a local economic force in communities throughout New Jersey. We are asking for your support and consideration as these changes are being debated. We thank you for your continued service and are available to answer any questions you may have on the impact to our businesses.

Marilou Halvorsen is CEO and president of the New Jersey Restaurant & Hospitality Association.