In the past few weeks, it’s been an unusually exciting time for us in New Jersey as Craft Brewers! Our site, which started as a response to rapidly evolving changes in our industry, became a focal point of the conversation as 30,000 visitors signed our petition to suspend potential negative changes for our local craft beer culture. Even in the past few days, regulators have continued to order breweries that on-premise events and any type of entertainment are forbidden (now using a interpretation of “intent” of the 2012 legislation in the absence of the Special Ruling). Since we’re in the process of getting ready for the next round of debate, negotiation, and advocating for common sense reforms for our in-state Craft Brewers, we thought we’d look at the journey so far…
On September 24th, the Director of the New Jersey Division of Alcohol Beverage Control issued a Special Ruling regarding Limited Craft Breweries that created new restrictions and dramatic restrictions for our industry. As of that date, breweries would only be allowed to hold 25 events on-premises; would have to remove menus and information from neighboring restaurants; would need a permit to turn on the television; have a limitation of one private event allowed per week, with a required list of attendees for submission to the state regulators.
This Special Ruling by the Director was signed on Friday the 21st but not issued to the industry or the public until the following Monday. Industry guidance was issued on Saturday evening as many of our industry leaders were still in Colorado for the Great American Beer Festival held by the Brewers Association. The process was a murky one, with little information given to the breweries affected and a closed conference process that included leaders from the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association, the New Jersey Licensed Beverage Association, the New Jersey Brewers Association, and the Brewers Guild of New Jersey.
Prior to September 24th, during the Summer, a handful of “Main Street” breweries expressed vocal concerns about the closed process (that eventually led to the Special Ruling), and with the help of legislators who listened to their concerns were able to meet with State Regulators to join the conversation. Unfortunately, while the points discussed at that July “Main Street Brewery” meeting were not preserved in the final process – the brewers involved continued communicating and founded the core of what would become the Independent Craft Brewers of New Jersey as a group message between peers.
Overnight Tuesday, September 25th, these brewers cooperatively drafted the Petition to Suspend the Special Ruling and began sharing it with fellow brewers and members of the public. As thousands of signatures poured in over the next week, legislators & local leaders joined our founders in expressing their opposition to the Special Ruling. More than 30 other breweries joined us as part of the Independent Craft Brewers Forum and leaders from the New Jersey Brewers Association and Brewers Guild of New Jersey (the two trade organizations that represent craft breweries in our state) met with our founders to help develop a response and strategy to prevent harm to our industry and local craft beer.
Surprisingly, a week later – as our petition reached 20,000 signatures – state leaders including Governor Phil Murphy and the NJABC Director David Rible announced a suspension of the Special Ruling. It is not removed or rescinded, but suspended while everyone takes a breath and better solutions are found to represent the interests of the public, licensee peers, and this growing craft beer industry in our state.
In Mid-October, our founders in the Independent Craft Brewers of NJ forum closed the signatures on the petition after another 10,000 members of the public signed in support of our cause (and in opposition to the restrictions of the Special Ruling). 30,000 signatures, from all over New Jersey and additional messages from around the country and around the world in support of our Craft Brewers and the need to remove arbitrary blocks to their success.
Now, Legislators have begun crafting solutions and the next round of our fight begins – in the Assembly, Joe Howarth and Wayne DeAngelo have introduced a bipartisan bill: A4594; in the Senate, Vin Gopal has introduced S3154… and more legislators are becoming involved every day as they realize the “Sword of Damocles” that hangs over our industry.
Whether joining these existing pieces of legislation or proposing new ideas – state legislators & local governments are concerned that while the Special Ruling is “paused”, the ideas behind it (and the special interest money fueling those ideas) are still waiting to be implemented. Where we asked you to sign a petition before, there will be times ahead that require calls and emails to your local representatives or even testimony for lawmakers in Trenton.
Even this weekend, there are breweries in New Jersey being told by state regulators that “Live Music is Forbidden” and “No Live Entertainment is Permitted”. In spite of the Special Ruling being suspended, these statements are made as enforcement of the “intent” of the 2012 Amendment.
The fight is not over, but thanks to everyone who supported us here, we have a voice and chance to ensure that New Jersey Craft Beer continues to be the success story that has captured your support and allowed our industry to flourish!