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Craft brewers push for changes to Maryland brewery bill

The Maryland State House. (File)

The Maryland State House. (File)

ANNAPOLIS — Craft brewers in Maryland urged lawmakers on Wednesday to make changes to proposed regulations that supporters say were driven by a plan to open a Guinness brewery in Baltimore County.

The bill, which passed the House of Delegates 139-0, would greatly increase the number of barrels of beer breweries could sell, but there are some new restrictions that brewers fear could hurt the industry in the state. Those include shortened hours and a provision requiring breweries to sell only beer produced on site.

Del. Talmadge Branch said the measure was an attempt to help the industry, not hurt it. He said the amount each brewery could serve annually would increase from 500 barrels to 3,000.

“We passed a bill that gave some and took some from everyone,” Branch, a Baltimore city Democrat, told a Senate committee now considering the bill.

Brewers have been worried by the restrictions, and the Maryland Association of Brewers is asking for some changes. One would allow existing brewers to be grandfathered into holding their current hours. The group also is asking to allow some offsite brewing, enabling 20 percent of a brewery’s beer to be brewed offsite.

“With the amendments, this bill will provide a path forward for our industry,” said Kevin Atticks, executive director of the association. “Do we love it? No. Are we happy with it? Frankly, no, because this bill from the start, we were on record opposing it.”

Diageo, the maker of Guinness stout, wants to put a brewery and taproom at a former whiskey bottling plant near Relay — a $50 million project that the company estimates could draw 200,000 to 300,000 tourists in its first year, said Dwayne Kratt, senior director of state government affairs for Diageo.

“Diageo’s vision is to create a beer tourism destination here in Maryland,” Kratt told a Senate committee.

Kratt said Diageo would like to see the brewery closing hours set at 10 p.m. across the board. He also said the company wants to be able to import unfinished Guinness stout from Dublin and finish it in Maryland, which would not be allowed under the current bill language.

Jan Gardner, who is the county executive in Frederick County where there are about a dozen breweries, urged lawmakers Wednesday to consider weighing the issues raised by the legislation in a workgroup.

“We do want to make sure that this industry can continue to create jobs and to promote tourism and be an active part of our community,” Gardner said.