TRENTON – Six months after suspending a Special Ruling that clarified the privileges of limited or “craft” brewery licenses in the state, the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (“the Division”) today issued a new Special Ruling with changes that address industry concerns.
The Division drafted the new ruling after an extensive outreach effort to meet with industry leaders, individual craft brewery owners, members of the Legislature, and others whose objections led the Division to suspend the previous Special Ruling last fall.
“We spent months meeting with stakeholders and listening to their concerns, especially the very few, very vocal licensees who felt their views were not adequately represented in the extensive stakeholder discussions we held prior to drafting and issuing the first Special Ruling,” said James B.. Graziano, Acting Director of the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control. “The Special Ruling issued today includes important changes that address key issues raised in these recent discussions. The changes made are intended to help craft breweries promote their products and build their business while continuing to balance the concerns of other licensees and ensuring compliance with state law.”
Under the new Special Ruling, craft breweries are still subject to a 25-per-year limit on “special events” that can be held on their premises, which was originally proposed in the previous Special Ruling. However, new language defines “special events” as only those that are promoted through the media or that provide entertainment in the form of live championship sporting event broadcasts, live amplified music or DJ performances.
This means that many activities that were subject to the 25-per-year “special event” limit under the previous Special Ruling – such as trivia/quizzo, craft making, animal adoption events, or yoga or other similar types of classes – will not be counted as “special events” unless they are advertised or promoted in the media.
Among other notable changes the Division believes will be of interest to the industry:
“We believe the activities permitted under this Special Ruling strike a fair and appropriate balance between the interests of full retail license holders, such as restaurants and bars, and the craft brewing industry,” said Director Graziano. “Will everyone be satisfied with them? Probably not. But at the end of the day, the Division’s job is to set limits on what licensees are entitled to do under existing laws and to level the playing field so that all limited breweries can compete fairly with each other. If there is a need for or interest in adjusting or further expanding the privileges available to limited brewery licensees, that would be a matter for consideration by the Legislature.”
By way of background, in 2012, the Legislature amended state liquor laws to promote the craft beer industry. The amendments created limited brewery licenses designed to help the growing industry, but they also restricted when and how breweries can serve alcohol on site.
The Legislature never intended the limited licenses to give craft breweries the same privileges of a consumption venue, such as a sports bar or restaurant. In recent years, however, a growing number of craft breweries began serving alcohol well beyond what the limited licenses allowed or ever envisioned. This resulted in complaints of unfair competition from bars and restaurant owners who hold licenses allowing full retail privileges.
In response, the Division engaged a variety of stakeholders on these issues. Among others, it consulted with the New Jersey Brewers Association, the Brewers Guild of New Jersey, the New Jersey Licensed Beverage Association, and the New Jersey Restaurant Association.
Thereafter, on September 21, 2018, the Division issued a Special Ruling that clarified the privileges of limited brewery licenses, and attempted to strike a balance between the interests of full retail license holders, such as restaurants and bars, and the craft brewing industry.