The owner of Guinness beer made a pitch to state lawmakers Monday to increase the amount of beer that can be sold at the brewery it's planning to open in Relay.
The Guinness brewery will draw hundreds of thousands of visitors and help "create a Maryland beer halo" that will boost the beer industry, said Dwayne Kratt, senior director of state government affairs for the international liquor company Diageo, which owns the Guinness brand.
Kratt and others made their case before the House of Delegates Economic Matters Committee during a marathon afternoon of hearings on more than five dozen liquor bills.
The Guinness brewery would open in a former rum bottling plant that Diageo owns in southwestern Baltimore County. It would likely become the home of Guinness Blonde American Lager, a relatively new beer that's currently brewed by a contractor in Pennsylvania.
The Guinness bill, sponsored by Del. Benjamin T. Brooks Sr. of Baltimore County, would allow the brewery to sell 5,000 barrels of beer to guests at its taproom. The current cap is 500 barrels, which would be enough to serve a pint of beer to half of the 250,000 visitors expected in the first year.
Kratt and Brooks had the support of Baltimore County officials. Will Anderson, chief of economic development for the county, said the Guinness brewery could be an "anchor institution" that will boost the local economy.
And Hal Ashman, who owns a water sports business and serves as chairman of the county's tourism board, said the Guinness brewery could become the county's largest tourism destination. Ashman said the Hampton National Historic Site in Towson, currently the top tourism destination, has 30,000 visitors.
The bill is opposed by groups that represent the state's bars, liquor stores and liquor wholesalers. Those groups favor protecting the "three-tier system" that limits how much manufacturers such as breweries can get involved in retail sales to consumers. They argue that brewery taprooms function much like a traditional bar and could siphon customers away from neighborhood bars.
The Brewers Association of Maryland also opposes the bill, on the grounds that all breweries should be afforded the same flexibility that Guinness is seeking.
The Brewers Association has endorsed a bill sponsored by Del. Charles Barkley that would allow all breweries to apply for a license with similar rules as the Guinness bill.
"Most of the states have no limit, period," said Barkley, a Montgomery County Democrat.
A third bill — backed by the retailers and wholesalers — would limit the hours and tastings at breweries.
The bill, sponsored by Del. Talmadge Branch, a Baltimore Democrat, aims to correct flaws in the system that have given breweries too much leeway, supporters said.
"This is an attempt to strike some balance," said Jack Milani, legislative chairman for the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association and owner of a bar in Woodlawn.
The same bills will have public hearings Friday before the Senate's Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.
The bill for Diageo's Guinness brewery will have a hearing before the Baltimore County Senate delegation on Wednesday and the Baltimore County House delegation on Friday.