USA: New Jersey regulators specify strict ruling on craft beer

New Jersey’s Division of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) has issued last Tuesday a special ruling that restricts breweries in the state in a number of ways—including who, what, when, and how they can serve. This preserves the status quo of New Jersey as one of the states in the USA with the most restrictive ruling on breweries and acts just opposite to the more liberal approach towards craft brewing across the United States in the recent years. The state still ranks only 45 out of 51 in U.S. breweries per capita.

ABC says the new ruling was intended to clarify state law which was adopted in June 2012 and which in fact helped to foster the state’s craft beer scene. Critics however argue that it protects restaurants, bars, and liquor stores in the state from competition in an impermissible way.

The new guidelines replace others the ABC had planned to adopt last September and which had had caused “significant confusion among the limited breweries concerning its enforceability,” according to ABC’s acting director James Graziano.

“We spent months meeting with stakeholders and listening to their concerns, especially the very few, very vocal licensees who felt their views were not adequately represented in the extensive stakeholder discussions we held prior to drafting and issuing the first Special Ruling,” said Graziano.

Some of the new guidelines were outlined in the statement by the ABC (referred to as “the Divison”) as follows:

  • Limited breweries are required under State law to give patrons tours of their facilities before serving them. However, under new language, a tour will be required only once a year for repeat customers as long as the brewery creates and maintains a record of customers’ previous participation in a tour.
  • The statutory requirements of New Jersey Liquor Laws limiting sales of any product for on-premises consumption to only those individuals who have toured the brewery and prohibiting the Limited Brewery from operating a restaurant and selling food (other than de minimis types of food) will be enforced immediately by the Division. However, the remaining provisions set out in the Special Ruling should be considered guidelines and will not be strictly enforced by the Division at this time, barring flagrant or repeated violations.
  • The new Special Ruling eliminates a ban on food deliveries to limited breweries and allows owners to provide patrons with menus from local restaurants.
  • Private parties are capped at 52 events a year – as they were under the previous Special Ruling, but now party hosts are permitted to bring their own wine and beer to their events, if the establishment allows it. This allows owners to market their facilities as party venues to individuals who may not want to be limited to serving craft beer.
  • The new Special Ruling confirms that Limited Breweries may allow up to 25 social affair events to be held on their licensed premises in accordance with existing law.
  • Limited Breweries may participate in 12 off-premises events with a permit issued by the Division that would allow them to sell beer in open containers at civic or community events. Unchilled 4- or 6-packs of beer may be sold for consumption off of the event premises.

In the near future, the ABC intends to engage in a formal notice and comment period pursuant to the state’s rulemaking process, and will propose these guidelines as regulations. Upon adoption, the guidelines will be fully enforceable with respect to all Limited Brewery licensees. Until such time as the regulatory process is completed and regulations are adopted, the ABC intends to treat the guidelines contained in the Special Ruling as special conditions on each Limited Brewery licensee, beginning with the 2020-2021 license term.

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