Guinness, local breweries try new approach on beer bill

Guinness, local breweries try new approach on beer bill.

As Diageo pushes to open a Guinness brewery in Baltimore County, it has forged an alliance with Maryland's local breweries.

The English alcoholic beverage conglomerate and the Brewers Association of Maryland drafted legislation introduced in the General Assembly on Monday night that would give all production breweries in the state the ability to sell significantly more beer in their taprooms.

"It's a response to testimony last week that the breweries support our bill but want it to be statewide," said Dwayne Kratt, Diageo's senior director of state government affairs.

Diageo plans to open a Guinness brewery in a former rum bottling plant the company owns in Relay. The southwestern Baltimore County facility would likely brew Guinness Blonde American Lager and test beers.

Diageo has asked state lawmakers for a tenfold increase in the amount of beer it can sell to customers in its taproom. The company has asked to serve 5,000 barrels; the state's current 500-barrel limit on breweries would allow Guinness to sell a pint to about half of the 250,000 visitors they expect in their first year.

At first, the Brewers Association of Maryland opposed the idea, then it offered support if the barrel cap was raised for all breweries in the state. Association officials think their lobbying has had an effect.

"It has been made clear that whatever the legislature plans to do for Diageo, they will also do for the larger industry," said Kevin Atticks, executive director of the brewers association. "There's movement to change the law and it would be unwise to do it for any one brewery, current or speculative."

Some local brewers are approaching the 500-barrel cap, including Jailbreak Brewing in Laurel and Flying Dog Brewery, which bought property for a new facility in Frederick, Atticks said.

The brewers association still has a separate bill that would create a new brewery license that caps on-site sales at 4,000 barrels and makes other changes to benefit brewers. That legislation was introduced in the House of Delegates.

"We now have two vehicles for a statewide solution," Atticks said.

The jointly supported bill would require breweries to close at 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and at midnight on Friday and Saturday.

Monday was the final day lawmakers could introduce bills in this General Assembly session without asking for a suspension of the legislature's rules. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Gail Bates, a Republican representing Howard and Carroll counties, must clear the Senate's Rules Committee in order to receive a public hearing.

Bates, who said she sponsored the bill at the brewers association's request, said she thinks it's important for all breweries to have the same rules for on-site sales.

Meanwhile, legislation specific to the Guinness project is also moving forward.

Baltimore County's senators voted Monday to endorse a bill that would allow only the future Guinness brewery to sell 4,500 barrels in its taproom. The taproom would be required to close at 10 p.m. nightly.

The Maryland Licensed Beverage Association, which represents bars, restaurants and liquor stores, opposes the bill as does the Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association.

Sen. Katherine Klausmeier expressed frustration that the licensed beverage association and Diageo couldn't compromise.

"I wish they'd talk. It's not too late," she said, noting there are nearly 40 days left in the 90-day General Assembly session.

The Baltimore County House delegation is scheduled to vote Friday on the Guinness-specific bill.

Generally, lawmakers allow a bill to pass if it only affects one county and that county's representatives support it. Even though Diageo supports a statewide bill, the company is hedging its bets and still pursing the legislation that would only change law in Baltimore County.

Kratt said he's hopeful at least one of the bills will pass before the General Assembly adjourns for the year on April 10.

"Everyone loves the jobs, everyone loves the tourism, everyone loves the manufacturing, everyone loves the brand," Kratt said. But to make the project work, it's "crucial" for the barrel limit to be raised, he said.

"You can't love this project without getting a meaningful increase in the sales cap," he said.

pwood@baltsun.com

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