The measure would allow brewers and other craft manufacturers to hold an unlimited number of on-premises events and serve more kinds of food. (Getty Images)
A bill that would lift food and event restrictions on breweries is headed to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk after winning approval from both chambers Monday.
The governor is expected to sign the bill, which passed unanimously in both chambers and represents a pared-down version of broader changes he sought that would have allowed towns to issue more liquor licenses, among other changes.
“Brewers are small business owners. They’ve had restrictions for a long time, and this is going to help a lot of mom-and-pops across the state,” said Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth), the bill’s prime Senate sponsor.
The measure would allow brewers and other craft manufacturers to hold an unlimited number of on-premises events. Current regulations cap them to 25 such events.
Off-premises events would remain capped at 25 per year, though breweries would be allowed to provide alcohol for off-premises social affair events, which require hosts to obtain a permit.
The bill would also lift some food service restrictions imposed on craft alcohol manufacturers, which are barred under current law from serving all food save token snacks like pretzels.
The legislation would remove that prohibition in part, allowing brewers to partner with local restaurants and food trucks to provide on-premises food services, though they would still be barred from running their own kitchens.
Restaurateurs have worried that allowing breweries to serve food would draw away their customers, while brewers have argued they need laxer food service and event rules to stay afloat.
“To say that you can go into a brewery but they can’t contract with a restaurant or they can’t have a trivia night is pretty crazy,” Gopal said. “So, I’m glad that this is getting corrected.”
The bill would also do away with a requirement that breweries must provide a tour of their facilities before selling alcohol.
Brewers celebrated the bill’s passage Monday, though many of the restrictions have been inactive for months. Enforcement was paused by the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control so lawmakers could negotiate changes.
“The industry has put its collective voice and energy towards ending these restrictions to not only stabilize and grow the industry, but provide consumers nationwide the best possible experiences and products we know all New Jersey craft breweries can consistently provide,” said Eric Orlando, executive director of the Brewer’s Guild of New Jersey.
There are some liquor license law changes in the bill. If it is signed into law, it would allow municipalities to reclaim inactive retail liquor licenses after two years of inactivity, or three if a municipality’s governing body approves an extension.
Towns in need of more licenses could open a request for proposals to obtain inactive licenses from other towns, but only from neighboring municipalities.
Another change would create a new class of liquor license for use in shopping mall food courts. Such licenses would cost at least $250,000.
The governor’s attempts to change the state’s Prohibition-era liquor laws met resistance within the Legislature, where members worried about the impact an expanded license pool would have on existing license holders.
A dearth of supply has driven prices for the types of liquor licenses used by bars and restaurants into the hundreds of thousands, and sometimes more than one million. Existing license holders feared increasing the number of licenses would devalue the ones already issued.
The bill is likely to be the last one touching the state’s liquor license laws to advance for some time, Sarlo and
“It’s a good first step, and I think this will take this off the table for a while,” said Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen), a sponsor.
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