The most interesting news that came out of the recent Reform on Tap meeting was that the failure of the legislature might be an executive failure as well.
Earlier this year, the Maryland Legislature passed a bill that would have all-but-killed the craft beer industry in the state. It was walked back a little bit, but the longterm effects are significant. The message sent by the legislature is that it cannot guarantee stability for brewers. In a tightening market with increasing costs and risk, the message amounted to a near-moratorium on brewery planning in the state.
Annapolis has a long history of alcohol influence. During Prohibition, the state house had its own bootlegger and it has only gotten cosier from there. A few weeks ago, I wrote a post pointing out that the Maryland legislature was spitting in the face of local brewers by making a deal with Guinness, which is owned …
Neighboring Virginia seized on the short-sighted rule changes and began recruiting brewers who were considering opening in Maryland to cross the line into the Commonwealth. According to Kevin Atticks of Grow and Fortify (the brewers association lobbyist), the state had some success in its endeavors. And it is continuing the pressure.
To compound the issue, Flying Dog brewery announced it was pulling back from an expansion plan because the political climate in Maryland was so unpredictable.
The promise and goal of the Reform on Tap project is to help change all that, but during the presentation of John Porcari, it became clear whatever legislation might be passed or changed, there is a simple, critical piece needed for Maryland to become a successful beer brewing state. Without the governor’s support and commitment, changing the laws won’t change the legislative and administrative attitude about beer’s economic importance.
This week was the first meeting of the “Reform on Tap Task Force,” a group convened by Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot to try and get a handle on craft beer regulations. In case you missed it, Franchot convened this task force after this year’s legislative debacle that
Porcari is a political consultant with decades of public service to the state. He talked about how N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo had set the tone for craft beer by announcing the state would adopt a holistic approach to growing the industry. Cuomo didn’t just create a cabinet position, he created a culture wherein the entire cabinet had N.Y. craft beer on its radar.
Agriculture, economic development, and the executive and enforcement apparatus all were committed to working together to elevate N.Y. Craft Beer. Moreover, they established initiatives to cultivate hops and barley and provide incentives for using products grown in the state.
Virginia has undergone a similar initiative wherein Gov. Terry McAuliffe has actively recruited breweries and made Virginia Craft Beer a central part of his administration’s focus on economic and agricultural development.
Since 2013, both Virginia and N.Y. have added about 100 breweries. Maryland has added 30. What these states get that Maryland misses, is that craft brewing is a wide open industry. It has the potential to transform economic development, agriculture and tourism for both urban and rural populations. Craft beer can keep billions of dollars recycling in the state, but like any other billion dollar industry, the government has to take it seriously.
The debacle of the past year has demonstrated that Maryland just doesn’t. Whether it grabs the opportunity to participate in this economic seachange is literally an executive decision.