SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

November 21, 2013

Our view: An unfair tap on local beer brewers

If Samuel Adams had to deal with the twisted regulatory mess that currently constitutes state oversight of beer and beer making, he might never have attempted to become a brewer.

Or maybe the Founding Father would have focused his revolutionary zeal on the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission and the outdated state laws that threaten the growth of one of the Bay State’s oldest industries.

It is clear that for a state that prides itself on innovation and small-business growth, Massachusetts does a poor job supporting craft breweries.

The chief complaint among craft brewers testifying at a Statehouse hearing last week was the outdated law that ties small local breweries to large distributors, essentially for life.

The law, passed in 1971, was designed to protect small, family-owned wholesalers reliant on national brewers, Ipswich Ale founder Rob Martin told legislators. It served that function but now threatens to put a damper on the growth of the new wave of “mom and pop” businesses — craft brewers.

Martin, who is also the president of the Massachusetts Brewers Guild, said small brewers often have to fight their distributor for every restaurant account or every inch of package store shelf space. And if they lose that fight, there’s little chance of dissolving the partnership.

The law has Chris Tkach, founder of Idle Hands Craft Ales in Everett, hesitant about expanding his business.

“This marriage for life with our distributor is a huge risk that gives me great pause on whether I want to move forward,” Tkach testified, according to a story by Colleen Quinn of the State House News Service.

Distributors say the law doesn’t need to be changed and note that brewers can go to the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission to change an agreement.

Looking to the ABCC for sound judgment, however, is too often a forlorn hope.

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