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Brown calls change to brewery rules a ‘job-killer’

In letter, senator urges treasurer, ABCC to reconsider revision

By Erin Ailworth
Globe Staff / August 5, 2011

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Senator Scott Brown yesterday condemned a rule change at the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission that beer makers say could harm 25 craft brewers in Massachusetts, and even put some smaller companies out of business.

The ABCC issued the revised rule, which has yet to be finalized, earlier this week. It would require the roughly two dozen local brewers operating under a so-called farmer-brewery license to grow at least half of the hops or grains they use to make beer, or get them from a domestic source.

“The commission’s insistence that a brewery grow at least 50 percent of the cereal grains and hops used in production is impractical in Massachusetts and a job-killer,’’ Brown wrote yesterday in a letter to state Treasurer and Receiver General Steven Grossman, who oversees the commission. “The costs of compliance would be burdensome, and in some cases, crushing . . . I urgently request that the ABCC reconsider this proposed change.’’

Grossman said that after seeing Brown’s letter, he immediately called the senator to reassure him that the rule change is a “work in progress.’’

The treasurer is scheduled to meet with brewers on Monday. “It’s meant to be an opportunity to listen to the industry and hear their concerns,’’ Grossman said. “I consider this advisory to be a work in progress. I consider it to be something that is out there for comment, and we will take into account any and all comments from the public or the industry.’’

The commission has said its advisory is an attempt to clarify just who qualifies as a farmer-brewer - someone who grows hops or grain to produce a malt beverage.

But brewers have said it would be difficult, if not impossible, to get a farmer-brewery license under the new requirements laid out by the commission. Without that license, they could not operate on-site tastings at breweries, and many fear they would have to pay a distributor to get their products into retail outlets, rather than saving money by doing it themselves.

Grossman said his office will use input from Monday’s meeting to help the ABCC craft a “thoughtful, common-sense’’ rule.

“We need to do everything we can to create jobs and to celebrate and nurture entrepreneurship,’’ he said.

At the same time, Grossman added, the commission shouldn’t shy away from asking “the industry to bend over backwards to help and to nurture the agricultural sector of the industry - but without making the bar so high that it is excessively onerous or burdensome.’’

Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com or on Twitter @ailworth.

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Affected breweries