For breweries and distilleries, new liquor license law lifts outdated (and nonsensical) rules

The new liquor license bill signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Phil Murphy does more than just increase the number of liquor licenses available for purchase, it gives the owners of breweries, cideries, meaderies and distilleries a fighting chance to survive economically.

The new law permanently eases the existing restrictions that have stifled these industries, hampering their ability to compete against burgeoning industries in neighboring states.

The law eliminates the longstanding burden that required these establishments to provide tours of the premises to patrons, while also allowing them to:

  • Offer snacks and other non-alcoholic beverages;
  • Collaborate with outside vendors, including food trucks;
  • Host unlimited onsite events and private parties, including birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and civic and political functions;
  • Host up to 25 off-site special events; and
  • Participate in up to 25 events hosted by the holder of a social affairs permit.

Eric Orlando, the executive director of the Brewers Guild of New Jersey and an executive vice president at the Zita Group, said the impact of the bill will be great.

“Clarifying the rights and privileges afforded to craft breweries in our state will give our industry a stronger foundation to operate on moving forward,” he said. “The legislation allows all state craft beverage manufacturers more opportunities to deliver both the unique products and experiences our customers deserve in our tasting rooms and throughout our communities.”

The bill also increases the number of barrels that may be manufactured per year from 10,000 to 300,000 and allows license holders to directly sell and distribute 50% of the beer that is produced on premises in each year to retailers, rather than having to rely solely on wholesalers.

That’s good for business, Orlando said.

“Gov. Murphy’s approval will most certainly set New Jersey’s craft beer industry on a positive trajectory for years to come, and shows the state’s commitment towards embracing the ingenuity and local pride which are at the core of every craft brewery which calls the Garden State home,” he said.

The prime sponsors of the legislation, which contains most of the reforms recommended in the governor’s conditional veto last month, included Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Ocean Twp.) and Assemblyman Clinton Calabrese (D-Ridgefield).

Gopal discussed the ability of the industry to help tourism; Calabrese mentioned the impact it will have on those just looking to have a drink during a dinner out.

“Our outdated laws on liquor licenses are stifling development and our economy,” Calabrese said.

State Sen. Gordon Johnson (D-Englewood) agreed.

“Changes to New Jersey’s archaic liquor licensing system are long overdue. For too long, individuals have held unused licenses hostage, preventing small businesses from gaining access and ultimately harming our downtowns,” he said. “This will not only free up those pocket licenses, but allow their transfer to bordering municipalities, creating new opportunities for our small towns to revitalize their main streets.”

State Sen. Raj Mukherji (D-Jersey City) said it’s a new day for a state that in many ways was still operating with post-Prohibition-era rules.

“In New Jersey, the cobwebs of our archaic liquor license laws have ensnared the potential of economic growth and job creation in the industry,” he said. “The outdated framework not only throttles the aspirations of restaurateurs and small business owners in license-starved municipalities, but also hamstrings the growth of our craft breweries and distilleries through arbitrary regulations.

“This much-needed modernization harmonizes growth with the interests and substantial investments of our beloved existing watering holes and liquor license holders.”