Good Beer Hunting

Guinness Partners with Maryland Craft Brewers to Back Beer Bill

In its quest to build out its own brewery in Maryland, Guinness has partnered with the state’s local beer industry to support a bill that would dramatically loosen on-site sales restrictions, the Baltimore Sun reports. Specifically, the legislation in question would enable brewers in the state to sell up to 5,000 barrels of beer per year for on-premise consumption—a sticking point for Diageo, Guinness’ parent company, which hopes to create a destination brewery in Baltimore County. Under the status quo, Maryland brewers are limited to selling a mere 500 barrels per year to be consumed on brewery grounds.

This is a good faith move by Diageo. Just last month, the company came under fire for putting its considerable weight behind a separate bill, which sought to similarly lift the cap, but was written only to benefit the forthcoming Guinness operation. As we wrote at the time, local brewers were, and have long been, in favor of lifting the cap—just not at the exclusion of any one business, never mind every business but one.

To be fair, Guinness’ rationale for supporting a bill that would, in effect, advance only its own cause wasn’t overtly nefarious (at least as explained publicly). Rather, the company said the bill would have the best chance of passing if it were applicable to one county as opposed to the whole state. Upon listening to the state’s local brewers at a recent hearing, though, the company decided to change course. 

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

That said, the Guinness-specific bill is still alive, making it possible that Maryland lawmakers decide to pass that version while killing the new bill supported by both sides. So while it’s nice to see Big Beer and Craft Beer working in tandem for the greater good, it’s not off the table that lawmakers end up favoring the Guinness bill over the broader initiative, though that seems somewhat unlikely considering the firestorm that would no doubt ensue and encircle the state’s elected officials.

Regardless, it now appears the three-way fight between Diageo, Maryland’s own brewers, and the state’s retailers has taken on the look of a more traditional one-on-one brawl between brewers and the bars, restaurants, and liquor stores that sell their product. Retailers have been vocal about keeping the stringent 500-barrel cap in place, claiming that changing the rules “don’t just blur the lines between the 3 tiers, they eviscerate it.”

The Maryland General Assembly adjourns for the year on April 10, so we’ll know how this all ends up shaking out in a month’s time.

—Dave Eisenberg

Guinness, local breweries try new approach on beer bill [Baltimore Sun]