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The Traveling Beer Geek

The Traveling Beer Geek

When other families — you know, normal families — make vacation plans, they might look at warm climates and family-friendly places like Disney. I look at that stuff, too, but I also look at what breweries are nearby. Of course, this is made easier by having a daughter that is interested in being a chef and a brewer. We headed north, into upstate New York and New England.

As a family, we went on a brewery-inspired, beer-fueled odyssey and our stops included; Ommegang, Prohibition Pig, The Alchemist, Zero Gravity, Hill Farmstead, Foulmouthed, Maine Beer Company, Bissell Brothers, Notch, Cambridge Brewing Company and Trillium.

It was an interesting and educational series of visits to production breweries, brew-pubs and farm breweries in states with more robust and aggressively growing beer industries than our own. The parking lots were filled with out of state license plates; people were touring the breweries, dining on food, and, of course, those who traveled from out of state were paying to stay locally.

Each location had its own specialties. Ommegang’s Belgian styles and the cafe are stops I would recommend to anyone heading up to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Delicious, heart-attack inducing French and Belgian inspired foods can be had in the cafe, only 10 minutes from the HoF. Prohibition Pig, a brewpub (full menu) and brewery (limited food menu) only minutes from Ben & Jerry’s, on the other hand, provided a more rustic atmosphere with Mexican and Cuban inspired finger foods.

More importantly, I saw what it looks like when a state offers support and assistance to its brewing industry. Vermont, in particular, was an education. According to the state’s website, officials held Brewery Day earlier this year, and it “was the first time officials from the Departments of Economic Development, Liquor Control, Health, Environmental Conservation, and the Natural Resources Board, Vermont Economic Development Authority, and the Vermont Small Business Development Center came together to comprehensively assist the rapidly growing industry.”

An economic impact report commissioned by the state of Vermont found that “The craft beer industry in Vermont supports over 1,500 jobs and draws in over a million tourists each year.”

Do you know what does not contribute to tourism in Maryland? The wholesalers, which brings me to HB 1283 Addendum.

I suppose to call this an addendum would imply that the saga of HB 1283, the new restrictive and regressive beer law governing Class 5 breweries in Maryland, is over. If you’re paying attention to the sabre-rattling, it’s only getting started. It’s being referred to by some in the industry as “the fight for Maryland beer,” and it is just beginning.

State Comptroller Peter Franchot has named a taskforce of professionals to address and make recommendations to modernize the laws governing the brewing industry in the state. This is a good first step, but that’s all it is.

The industry, and Franchot, are fighting a major lobbying group in the form of the wholesalers, and, to a lesser extent, the retailers — both of whom have a lot more money to throw at the issue than the brewers. In a late April Op-Ed piece that appeared in the Baltimore Sun, a Bond Distributing employee made the laughable statement, “Keep in mind, distributors and retailers are the backbone of the beer business in Maryland.” With no disrespect to the FNP’s distribution network, that’s pretty much the equivalent of the people delivering the newspapers claiming to be the backbone of the news industry, with no regard to the reporters, editors, printers and other people responsible for the newspaper’s production.

He makes many claims as to why HB 1283 is good and claims that it is bad to allow breweries more freedom to collaborate, to have higher tasting room sales limits, and that the previously existing tasting room hours would result in wholesalers and retailers losing jobs. There is no evidence to support his claims of job loss. To the contrary, the evidence that does exist from other states. Well … .

With the exception of Georgia, most of the states up and down the Eastern seaboard have much more liberal laws regarding all of the above, and still have thriving, vibrant distributorships and retail markets. More liberal brewing laws have not hurt his side of the aisle. At all.

And people like him are exactly why we need to fight even harder for better beer laws.

To put it in perspective, Vermont, a state that’s entire population is only two and half times that of Frederick County’s and has much more liberal laws governing its beer makers, hosts 48 active members, more than half as many as all of Maryland, and still has nine wholesalers throughout the state.

Originally published in the Frederick News Post on May 11, 2017.

About The Author

Kevin Smith

A veteran reporter of more than two decades, Kevin Smith has been covering the Maryland Beer industry since 2005 when he covered the business beat for the Frederick Gazette. Since early 2007, he has covered Maryland for the Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, and penned columns about craft beer for frederickbeer.com, The Frederick News-Post, Want2Dish.com, and Maryland Life Magazine. He has also written about the wine industry in the Mid-Atlantic region for The Frederick Gazette, Wine Business Monthly, and Hagerstown Magazine. Kevin currently lives in Western Frederick County with his wife, two daughters, and his goofy dog, Fezzik.

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