Comptroller Peter Franchot hoists a beer with Maryland brewers. Image Courtesy of Comptroller Peter Franchot’s Facebook.
Comptroller Peter Franchot hoists a beer with Maryland brewers. Image Courtesy of Comptroller Peter Franchot’s Facebook.

After a months-long process of forming a task force on the state’s beer laws and holding meetings, Comptroller Peter Franchot released proposals in December 2016 for loosening restrictions on Maryland’s craft breweries.

Among the suggested changes: remove restrictions on production and taproom sales, allow self-distribution and remove restrictions on contract brewing.

When I talked to Franchot in October for City Paper, he told me that voters of all stripes support helping brewers: “[T]hey all like the concept of Maryland-produced craft beer.”

That hasn’t stopped opponents from coming out against the bill in the new year, as Michael Dresser detailed in The Sun this morning.

Eric L. Best, a beer distributor who served on the Reform on Tap Task Force and the vice president of the Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association, is part of a coalition planning to fight a bill to change the beer industry.

Though the task force brought together various stakeholders—brewers, distributors, legislators and business advocates, just to name a few—Best told Dresser that all the recommendations were “absolutely a fait accompli.”

My interview with Franchot proved to be a bit of a flash point, particularly a passage where the comptroller argued the current restrictions placed on the alcohol industry have nothing to do with health and safety, and that people who say so are “lying.”

“Anyone who says regulation isn’t important to alcohol denies the concern of excessive drinking,” Best told The Sun. “Distributors have been called liars. That’s pretty harsh.”

And as WBAL 1090’s Robert Lang reported on Dec. 29, House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who holds considerable sway over any bill’s fate, questioned why the chairmen of the House and Senate committees that oversee alcohol were not invited to participate in the task force, and also “suggested relieving Franchot of his power to to enforce liquor laws, since Franchot criticized a craft beer bill that lawmakers approved this year.”

The legislation that inspired Franchot to form a task force, House Bill 1283, was passed during the last legislative session to, in part, help Guinness open its first North American brewery in Baltimore County. Not long after, craft brewers complained they would be hurt by some of the restrictions laid out in the bill, and while existing breweries were eventually allowed to have their current taproom hours grandfathered in, advocates said House Bill 1283 would still harm anyone trying to open a new brewery in Maryland.

Fallout was swift. Virginia began aggressively courting breweries in Maryland, and Flying Dog, a nationally recognized brewery based in Frederick, put plans for an expansion “on permanent hold” to see how things shake out in the legislature.

The 90-day legislative session is set to begin in Annapolis on Jan. 10.

On his Facebook page, Franchot shared The Sun‘s article and wrote that the issue is “reform for consumers and local community businesses, vs. the status quo for the special interests and corporate monopolies.”

“Having enjoyed a restful holiday,” he added, “I’m fired up and ready to go in 2018!”

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Brandon Weigel

Brandon Weigel is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he has been published in The Washington Post, The Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Urbanite, The Baltimore...