The Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission issued an advisory yesterday that has some brewers scratching their heads -- and probably worrying about their futures.
The ruling apparently will make it more difficult for small beer makers to get licensed. Many of the state's breweries have what are known as farmer-brewery licenses, which are less expensive and less cumbersome to obtain than full manufacturer license. The licenses also allow breweries to distribute their own beer locally, sell beer on premises, and operate tasting rooms.
The ABCC's advisory -- which followed its decision last week to deny an application for a farmer-brewery license from a new beer maker called Idle Hands Craft Ales -- says a business can get a farmer-brewery license only if at least 50 percent of its beer-making ingredients are grown in Massachusetts. That would pretty much disqualify every brewery in the state.
None of the roughly two dozen breweries that currently have farmer-brewery licenses will be grandfathered, either. "The Commission put the industry on notice that it will apply this ruling prospectively and, specifically, during the next annual renewal cycle to ensure that every applicant for a Farmer-Brewer license meets the state law definition of farmer-brewer," the advisory says. "Moreover, applicants that do not meet the criteria for a Farmer-Brewer license are welcome to apply for a manufacturer’s license." (Some breweries hold both licenses.)
The law creating the farmer-brewery license was written "for the purpose of encouraging the development of domestic farms."
Representatives of Sam Adams and Harpoon declined to tell us whether they think the advisory would affect their popular tasting rooms.
More to come on this developing story. The full text of the ABCC's advisory is below.
THE ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES CONTROL COMMISSION ("ABCC") ADVISORY
The Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission ("the Commission") endeavors to support and enhance the agricultural community, ensure the long-term viability of agriculture, and support farms that protect the common good in many ways including maintaining open spaces in communities. Through the issuance of Farmer-Brewery licenses, the Commission proudly encourages the development of domestic farming and the people who help it thrive.
Each Farmer-Brewer license exists for the specific public purpose of "encouraging the development of domestic farms." To advance this public purpose, the law requires that a Farmer-Brewer grow cereal grains or hops for the purpose of producing malt beverages. While a licensed Farmer Brewer may import malt, cereal grains fermentable, sugars and hops, this does not eliminate the basic growing requirement. The Commission recently issued a decision relative to Farmer-Brewery licenses. A Farmer-Brewer is any person who grows cereal grains or hops for the purpose of producing malt beverages and who is licensed to operate a Farmer-Brewery.
In its decision, the Commission held that each applicant for a Farmer-Brewery license must document that it grows cereal grains or hops of at least 50%, in the aggregate, of the quantity of cereal grains and hops needed to produce the gallonage of malt beverages estimated to be produced by the applicant during the license term. The Commission also held that when that applicant contracts exclusively for the rights to the yield of cereal grains or hops produced from acreage of domestic farmland that applicant will also be considered to grow "cereal grains or hops for the purpose of producing malt beverages" as required by this law.
For example, if an applicant estimates it will produce "X" barrels of malt beverages in calendar year 2012, and that to produce this volume of malt beverages it will require 200 bushels of cereal grains and 4 bushels of hops, the applicant is required to produce evidence that it grows at least 102 bushels of cereal grains and/or hops used to produce the malt beverages, or that the applicant has exclusive contracts rights to the yield of cereal grains or hops produced from acreage of domestic farmland, or some combination thereof that reaches the "at least 50%" required amount.
The decision dictates compliance with the letter as well as the spirit of Massachusetts General Laws chapter 138, §19C. The Commission put the industry on notice that it will apply this ruling prospectively and, specifically, during the next annual renewal cycle to ensure that every applicant for a Farmer-Brewer license meets the state law definition of farmer-brewer. Moreover, applicants that do not meet the criteria for a Farmer-Brewer license are welcome to apply for a manufacturer’s license. If you have questions concerning this Advisory or would like more information, please call Executive Director Ralph Sacramone at 617-727-3040.
(Issued: Monday, August 1, 2011)
Here's a list of the 21 breweries that had farmer-brewery licenses as of 2010. More have been added since, so this is not a complete, up-to-date list:
Amherst Brewing Co. (Amherst)
Berkshire Mountain Brewers (Great Barrington)
Lefty's Brewing Co. (Bernardston)
Boston Beer Co. (Boston)
Buzzards Bay Brewing (Westport)
BYOB Brewery (Amesbury)
Cape Ann Brewing Co. (Gloucester)
Cape Cod Beer (Hyannis)
Cisco Brewers (Nantucket)
Element Brewing Co. (Millers Falls)
Franklin County Brewing Co. (Greenfield)
Mass Bay Brewing Company (otherwise known as Harpoon) (Boston)
Mayflower Brewing Co. (Plymouth)
Mercury Brewing and Distribution Co. (Ipswich)
Nashoba Valley Spirits (Bolton)
Paper City Brewing Co. (Holyoke)
Sherwood Forest Brewers (Marlborough)
South Shore Brewing Co. (Canton)
Vineyard Brewing Co. (Oak Bluffs)
Watch City Brewing Co. (Waltham)
Wormtown Brewery (Worcester)