After false start, New Jersey sets rules for microbreweries

New Jersey issued new rules for microbreweries Tuesday, several months after an initial attempt met with resistance from brewers who said their businesses would be hurt.

The guidelines released by the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control update and clarify a 2012 law allowing microbreweries to serve their products on site. They limit how many events breweries can host, who is allowed to drink on premises and whether they can serve food.

The state issued new rules last fall but quickly suspended them after opposition from what Acting ABC Director James Graziano characterized Tuesday as "the very few, very vocal licensees who felt their views were not adequately represented." The rules also led to pushback from legislative leaders including Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, both Democrats.

The guidelines make "important changes that address key issues raised in these recent discussions," Graziano said in a statement Tuesday. "The changes made are intended to help craft breweries promote their products and build their business while continuing to balance the concerns of other licensees and ensuring compliance with state law."

Bar and restaurant owners have voiced concerns that the microbreweries are diluting the value of their liquor licenses, which are allotted based on population and are limited in number. They can cost several hundred thousand dollars, depending on the applicant's location.

The new rules limit New Jersey's roughly 100 microbreweries to 25 publicly advertised or promoted events per year, though that number also could include live music and live sports broadcasts even if those events aren't advertised or promoted.

Separately, a brewery can host as many as 52 private parties per year, such as birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, civic or political functions, or professional and trade association events.

Where in the past, a customer was required to take a tour before consuming beer on premises, the new rules allow repeat customers to take one tour per year.

Customers can bring food or have food delivered, and the brewery can offer takeout menus from local restaurants, provided it doesn't have an exclusive relationship with the restaurant. The initial guidelines released last fall prohibited the breweries from providing takeout menus.

Eric Orlando, head of the Brewer's Guild of New Jersey, said his members would be closely monitoring how the guidelines affect breweries of different sizes and profiles. The ABC said it will eventually seek to make the guidelines permanent through a legally required process that includes a public comment period.

"There are some good aspects to it that give some clarity to some of the issues," Orlando said. "There are still some things my organization is going to have to review. We're going to let this play out a little to see how it works on the ground."