Bill to allow more beer sales at Maryland breweries passes House

A bill that would let Maryland breweries sell more beer in tap rooms is advancing to the state Senate.

The House of Delegates unanimously approved legislation Saturday that would increase the amount of beer Maryland breweries can sell on their premises — but not as much as the industry wanted.

The vote sends the measure to the state Senate.

The legislation would pave the way for the opening of a Guinness brewery and tourist destination at a former distillery in Relay.

Guinness' parent — international liquor giant Diageo — and other breweries did not get all they wanted because of opposition from the state's liquor stores and beer wholesalers.

The legislation would limit annual on-site brewery taproom sales to 2,000 barrels, up from the current limit of 500. The measure would let the breweries sell another 1,000 barrels, but only if they bought it back from a beer wholesaler.

Diageo and the Maryland Brewers Association had lobbied for a limit in the range of 4,000 to 5,000 barrels with no other limitations.

Diageo's senior government relations director, Dwayne Kratt, said the company is pleased that the House passed the bill but will seek changes in the Senate that would give breweries more latitude.

"We have said all along that we support a statewide increase, as a rising tide lifts all boats," he said. "We are, however, concerned with a new restriction added to the bill with regard to brewing."

Kratt said Diageo and the association are also concerned about the limitation on the hours during which breweries will be permitted to sell beer.

The legislation would allow breweries to sell directly to customers from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. That could be a sticking point in the Senate because many existing breweries are currently allowed to stay open later.

Diageo is planning to make the site in Relay the center of Guinness' American operations. The company also hopes the brewery will draw beer drinkers for tours and sampling.

The location would be the home to Guinness American Blonde Lager and would be used to test brew new recipes. Guinness Draught would continue to be brewed at the St. James's Gate brewery in Dublin.

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