Franchot, Anderton gear up for next beer fight
No matter the blather coming from Annapolis, the bad craft beer legislation recently passed by the house isn’t good for anyone who makes beer for a living. State Comptroller Peter Franchot, who stopped by Evolution Craft Brewing as part of his recent Shore tour, hopes to set things right with the help of legislative allies, members of the craft beer industry and enthusiastic drinkers who don’t want to see Maryland beer become obsolete.
One ally, local Del. Carl Anderton, joined Franchot at Evo. After the house voted unanimously for a plan to essentially kill craft beer in Maryland (the bill since has been amended to merely maim it), the house was divided into pro- and anti- Maryland craft beer factions. Anderton came down on the pro- side after having been among the majority of legislators duped by colleagues who were acting against the best interest of Maryland local business.
He, and surely dozens of other state delegates, has taken a “fool me once” approach to beer legislation. Since both his colleagues and lobbyists for the industry can’t be trusted to stand up for local brewers, many of the delegates have returned to their home districts to speak with the brewers directly and to see if Maryland’s craft beer future can be saved.
Craft Beer’s hands are tied
As I’ve written elsewhere, the biggest losers in the recent legislation don’t even know it yet. Coming in at a close second are anyone who is interested in local manufacturing, small independent breweries, and beer drinkers.
Speaking with John and Tom Knorr, who own Evolution Craft Brewing, Franchot and Anderton hoped to get a big picture guide to what the industry needs. Even in terms of craft brewing Evolution is pretty small, but they are one of the largest craft breweries in Maryland. One the face of it, they were supposed to have come out unscathed because the legislature banned a different kind of brewery. In reality they lost pretty big as well.
For example, there is a limit to how much beer they can sell. Think on that a second. The great compromise the Maryland legislature is bragging about makes breweries the only business that is legally prohibited from meeting demand.
This alone has two major downsides: First, it prevents local breweries from growing, for obvious reasons. But second, it means that Maryland’s demand for craft beer (and inability to produce enough to meet demand) makes craft brewers weakest in their own markets. Delaware, Virginia and even N.J. can export more beer to Maryland than local producers can. And production limits aren’t even the most intractable problem.
The real question
Franchot asked about other states and the different ways they dealt with legislating craft beer. Virginia, for example, has twice as many breweries producing nearly twice as much economic impact as Maryland. Franchot wanted to know why. The short answer is that Virginia has a lot more of the taproom-style breweries that Maryland just effectively banned and an easier permitting process. Virginia has more than two local, craft breweries for every 100,000 people. While Virginia is letting local entrepreneurs invest in their own communities, Maryland is doing backflips to keep Johnnie Walker blended whisky happy.
Just taking the production gloves off would make Maryland stronger economically, let alone freer and more competitive.
And that was what was at the bottom of the conversation. Franchot hopes to marshall pro-local business legislators like Anderton and industry leaders like the Knorrs to find ways to make the Maryland economy stronger. The opposing forces are just sitting back and waiting for whatever donations keep them from having to find real jobs.