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Brewers greet state’s reversal on rule

Beer makers opposed local-products policy

By Erin Ailworth
Globe Staff / August 9, 2011

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The state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission yesterday decided to ditch a licensing rule change that would have hurt more than two dozen Massachusetts craft brewers and, the beer makers said, put several companies out of business.

The new rule would have required brewers operating under a farmer-brewery license to grow 50 percent of the grains or hops they use to make malt beverages, or get them from a domestic source, which many brewers interpreted to mean Massachusetts. That, they said, would be impossible for most brewers, because the state doesn’t produce enough of the necessary ingredients.

After meeting with brewers yesterday - including the makers of Samuel Adams, as well as Cape Ann Brewing Company and Ipswich Ale Brewery - state Treasurer Steven Grossman said the commission, which his office oversees, had made a “mistake.’’ The farmer-brewery license costs hundreds, even thousands, of dollars less than the state’s other brewing licenses, and allows brewers to market their beer directly to retailers, a necessity for many of the small businesses to grow.

“The 50 percent threshold will not be implemented,’’ Grossman said. “We realized that perhaps we went a little beyond what was practical.’’

Instead, Grossman said, commission officials will hold several regulatory hearings across the state focusing on how to develop common-sense regulations that will promote agriculture and help create jobs in the state’s growing craft-brewing industry.

Roughly 1,100 people are employed by local brewers, according to the Massachusetts Brewers Guild, which represents roughly 40 beer makers.

The commission announced the new rule in an advisory last week, saying it was trying to clarify just who qualified as a farmer-brewer, which is defined as someone who grows grains or hops to make beer. Commission officials reviewed the regulation after receiving an application for a farmer-brewery license from a brewer located in an industrial park.

But after an outcry from beer makers, farmers, and the public, the commission decided to abandon the new rule.

Rob Martin, the guild’s president, said brewers expect to play a large role in helping the state craft new licensing rules that will draw more beer makers to Massachusetts and create jobs and revenue for state and local governments.

“With the public forums we think there’s a great opportunity for our industry to work with the ABCC, the treasurer’s office, and farms,’’ said Martin, who is also president of Ipswich Ale.

At Cape Ann Brewing in Gloucester, owner Jeremy Goldberg applauded the state’s decision. If the new rule had been implemented, he said, he would have had to close a new brewpub - and probably his entire brewery - because he wouldn’t have qualified for a farmer-brewery license.

“It means business as usual,’’ Goldberg said. “Keep making good beer, keep growing our business, and hopefully adding jobs and adding revenue for the state.’’

Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com.