Toasting the future of breweries
— “We are going to reform the laws so folks are going to say, ‘Hey let’s go to Mar yland,’” Mar yland State Comptroller Peter Franchot said. “I promise you it’s going to happen.”
Franchot spoke about craft beers and Maryland’s brewing industry on
Tuesday, June 27, at RAR Brewing in Cambridge for what was billed as an informal happy hour called “Reform on Tap.”
The happy hour was a chance to discuss with owners Chris Brohawn and JT Merryweather, along with local business leaders and the community, about the value in changing current craft beer industry legislation in Maryland.
The relaxed happy hour gave beer enthusiasts and others an opportunity to discuss and weigh in on challenges and solutions facing Maryland’s craft beer industry.
In recent months, Franchot, as the state’s chief alcohol regulator, has been visiting breweries across the state to see the impact they have throughout Maryland.
He has visited RAR several times in the past and even has a favorite beer.
“It is a great new brewery,” Franchot said. “They are creating jobs, tax revenue, wages and in addition they are improving the state’s business reputation.”
Legislative issues with Maryland’s craft beer industry came to a head this past legislative session. As lawmakers worked on a bill to allow brewers to produce more barrels each year, controversy sparked over certain measures of the bill that also would have limited hours of operation more than what is restricted already, and issues between the brewers, distributors and store owners also arose.
Franchot, who argued against the bill’s restrictive measures and for a total reform of Maryland’s craft beer regulations, is on a brewery tour throughout the state to hear directly from Marylanders as he considers potential reforms to the state’s beer laws as part of the Reform on Tap Task Force.
The task force is made up of distributors, brewers, retailers, government officials and others who are invested in seeing a true reform in the legislation, to make it easier for craft brewing businesses to open and survive in Maryland.
The goal for the task force is to make Maryland a benchmark state for breweries by modernizing laws to conform to national standards and better meet customer demands. The ultimate goal is to grow the market within the state.
The current legislation limits Maryland brewers in regard to hours, brewing, licensing and distribution.
“Together, we are going to modernize the state’s beer laws so that we can get a lot of the impediments removed for our brewers and the successor breweries that we hope will come from all over the country,” Franchot said. “We hope to straighten out the law.”
Local task force members include Brohawn, Del. Johnny Mautz, R-37B-Talbot, and Joe Petro, owner of Hair O’ The Dog Wine and Spirits in Easton.
“We are here to support local business, and RAR is a local business and we do a lot of business with them,” Petro said. “I am also on the task force with the comptroller, and it is a great opportunity to get out, speak to the breweries and meet people involved with the process.”
Petro said Maryland is a threetier state — distributors, breweries and retailers.
“We are on the end of that chain, and we have a significant stake in not only the success of the breweries but in how their products get distributed and ultimately in our hands,” Petro said.
Kelly Dudeck of the Maryland Breweries Association was in attendance for the happy hour and said this was a great opportunity for her to check in with people on the Shore.
“We wanted to come and visit some of our members here on the Eastern Shore, hear some of the discussions happening and see what the climate is like down here these days,” Dudeck said. “We just wanted to check in.”
She said it has been great having the comptroller involved in the issue and the breweries couldn’t be more thrilled with his involvement.
“Two breweries are getting ready to release tribute beers to the comptroller,” Dudeck said.
“He has been their biggest ambassador,” she said. “I think it means a lot to the brewers, specifically, to have somebody going to bat for them.”
Brohawn agrees with Dudeck and said Franchot has been an asset to his business.
“The comptroller has been great to us. He has been here a few times before,” Brohawn said. “We have a great relationship with him.”
Brohawn said the task force is trying to curb legislation or prevent any fur ther legislation hur tful to breweries like his.
“Franchot is building this movement to make sure we get what we want and keep brewers brewing in Maryland,” Brohawn said.
Franchot is using this movement to entice millennials and others who love craft beers to visit Maryland.
“The new generation — the millennials— they love craft beer,” Franchot said. “They will travel from Washington or Baltimore to visit RAR brewery and other ones like them.”
Franchot said the main cause for the task force is on the merits to reform and modernize the state’s antiquated laws, and the main positive takeaway is going to be new young millennials being attracted to the buzz about Mar yland.
“Right now, we are one of the worst states in the countr y for starting an independent craft brewery, because of some unfortunate legislation,” Franchot said. “Virginia is picking our pockets trying to steal our breweries, so we are going to change that this next legislative sessions, from one of the worst to the best state in the country.”
Franchot said there has been some extra benefits to tackling the legislation.
“I have managed to unite the Trump supporters and the Clinton supporters behind cold Maryland beer,” Franchot jokingly said. “It’s common ground.”
Recently, Franchot has had some craft beers named after him, including Saison DeFranchot, Fiscal Watchdog and Franchot Comes Alive.
“I used to want honorary degrees given to me by colleges,” Franchot said. “I am done with that; this is where it’s at.”
Franchot said it is ultimately about the companies that make the beer.
“They are producing $700 million in economic activity, and it could be $2 billion in a couple years,” Franchot said. “If we could just manage to get out of their way. Plus the beer is delicious — it’s high-quality stuff.”
BY DENAE SPIERING/DSPIERING@CHESPUB.COM On Tuesday, June 27, Maryland State Comptroller Peter Franchot visited RAR Brewing in Cambridge. Franchot was hosting an informal happy hour at the brewery to discuss the Reform on Tap Task Force. Above Franchot toasts to RAR Brewing for its success in creating jobs and great tasting beer. He is pictured beside RAR co-owner JT Merryweather.
PHOTOS BY DENAE SPIERING/DSPIERING@CHESPUB.COM On Tuesday, June 27, Maryland State Comptroller Peter Franchot visited RAR Brewing in Cambridge. Franchot was hosting an informal happy hour at the brewery to discuss the Reform on Tap Task Force.
On Tuesday, June 27, Maryland State Comptroller Peter Franchot visited RAR Brewing in Cambridge. Franchot was hosting an informal happy hour at the brewery to discuss the Reform on Tap Task Force. Above Franchot congratulates RAR Brewing owner JT Merryweather for its success in creating jobs and great tasting beer.