BRISTOL - Following the shelving of two bills that would ban breweries from selling their beer for consumption on the premises if they also distribute it for purchase in other locations, the Connecticut Brewers Guild plans to hold their quarterly meeting Tuesday and are prepared to protect their place in the industry.
The two bills, proposed by state Rep. Brandon McGee, D-Hartford, and state Sen. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford, were both withdrawn after three days following intense backlash from fans of craft beer.
Several local brewers reacted strongly to the proposal, which they argued threatened the viability of their businesses. Some of them argued that it was an attempt by “big beer” to crush competition. Many of them plan to attend the guild meeting to discuss how to counteract such attempts in the future.
Dana Bourque, head brewer at Firefly Hollow Brewing, said that he didn’t feel the bill had a chance and that reaction to it may have been “blown out of proportion.”
“It was alarming to see, but it was clear from the start that there was no interest in destroying the industry – which is what that bill would have done,” he said. “I don’t think that was the intention of the legislators either. I don’t like the way these things can blow up and bring about divisiveness. But, it was great to see the strong support of breweries from the community.”
Bourque said that there will always be competition from different elements in the industry. However, he said that they are all just “trying to protect their piece of the pie.”
“We’re all part of the same industry and we should be working together,” he said. “The Connecticut Brewers Guild will also be discussing ways we can reach out to restaurants that support craft beers and how we can try to bring them into beer trail.”
One local brewer who plans to attend the meeting, Mark Sigman, owner of Relic Brewing in Plainville, said that, over the course of two days, the bills were “hit so hard” by fans of breweries who “went crazy” calling up their local legislators. He said that the Connecticut Brewers Guild “has a lot of power” and that Curt Cameron, who owns Thomas Hooker Brewery in Bloomfield and Hartford, “is good friends with the governor.”
“People are trying to blame breweries because the overall sales of beer and alcohol are down,” he said. “But this is because people are living healthier lifestyles – they’re drinking and smoking less in general.”
Sigman said that legislators should not be trying to blame breweries. Instead, he argued that they should eliminate some of the laws that affect restaurants and liquor stores. He said that in Connecticut it is illegal for liquor stores to sell growlers and for restaurants to sell six-packs of beer, but that other states do not have these restrictions.
Bob Bartholomew, head brewer at Kinsmen Brewing Company in Southington, also plans to attend the guild meeting. He said that “everyone will be there” from the brewing business.
“These types of bills pop up every once and a while from people who are in the pockets of certain organizations,” he said. “This was an attack from big beer and it received a massive backlash. It’s just politicians sticking their noses into things they don’t know anything about and wasting everybody’s time.”
Had the bill gone into effect, Bartholomew argued, it would destroy many breweries, prevent others from opening and stop others from growing.
“At Kinsmen, we do retail but we are trying to break into off-site sales,” he said. “It was really just a business killer. The state of Connecticut has never been too friendly to beer and alcohol products, which is crazy because the surrounding states historically have been.”
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.