Local breweries, legislators back move to lift beer sales limit

Empty growlers line the shelves as Aaron Simoncini, second from left, owner of Beer'd Brewing Co. in Stonington, assists patrons during a public tasting and growler fill on Jan. 20, 2013. The Beer'd owners are among those who support a bill that would lift the limit on the amount of beer that a brewery in the state can sell per customer per day. (AP Photo/Tim Martin, The Day)
Empty growlers line the shelves as Aaron Simoncini, second from left, owner of Beer'd Brewing Co. in Stonington, assists patrons during a public tasting and growler fill on Jan. 20, 2013. The Beer'd owners are among those who support a bill that would lift the limit on the amount of beer that a brewery in the state can sell per customer per day. (AP Photo/Tim Martin, The Day)

In January, Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton, found herself with more than 50 postcards from patrons of Beer'd Brewing Company. It was part of a grass-roots effort to get state lawmakers to lift the limit on the amount of beer a manufacturer can sell to one person on one day, which currently is 9 liters.

At the Capitol on Tuesday, the Joint Committee on General Law heard several hours of testimony on House Bill 5036, which would lift that limit.

Conley, state Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, and Beer'd co-owner Precious Putnam were three of many at the hearing to offer testimony in support of the bill. The nearly 70 pieces of written testimony submitted were overwhelmingly in favor, but wholesalers came in person to oppose the measure.

"Why are we limited on selling a product that we're producing?" Putnam questioned in a video Somers posted to Facebook on Tuesday. "It's like going to a farm and trying to get eggs and saying, 'Oh, you can only have 10, but you can go to a grocery store and buy unlimited.' It's ridiculous."

Conley pointed out that many breweries sell 16-ounce cans. Nine liters is about 304 ounces, or 19 cans, so breweries can't sell a full case of 16-ounce cans.

After receiving the postcards, Conley went to Beer'd for a tour. She heard about how the brewery had started offering matching 401(k) plans, and about its plans for a second location in Groton.

On Jan. 24, she asked the General Law Committee to raise a bill eliminating the limit.

The directive ended up included in a larger bill from Gov. Dannel Malloy, one that also discussed wholesale prices of wine, and bottling. Conley is co-sponsor of this bill.

The bill "is a bit controversial. We call it an aircraft carrier bill," Somers said in the video she posted. "There are things in there that people like and that they don't like, so we are going to push to have the microbrewery and craft brewery sections separated out and passed as its own individual bill."

Somers also toured Beer'd in January, and on Feb. 8 she held a "Pints and Policy Office Hour" there.

"Each time you pass a bill like H.B. 5036, small businesses pop up in the wake," Drew Rodgers, owner of Barley Head Brewery in Mystic, said in written testimony he submitted. "Not just breweries, but hopyards to supply the hops, cattle farmers to absorb the spent grain, and most recently, Connecticut's first maltster."

A brewery owner makes the trek from Massachusetts

Esther Tetreault, co-founder of Trillium Brewing Company in Boston and Canton, Mass., spoke to the Joint Committee on General Law about how Trillium has been able to thrive without the constraints of direct-sale limits.

Trillium has gone from selling 300 barrels when it was founded in 2013 to 20,000 in 2017, and the company now has more than 100 employees, growth Tetreault said is "primarily due to our ability to sell directly to consumers without limits."

Tetreault has a stake in Connecticut law because Trillium is looking to build a production facility on farmland in southeastern Connecticut, and she said the 9-liter limit would significantly inhibit the business model.

Tetreault originally is from Connecticut, and she and her husband, co-founder JC Tetreault, got married at Saltwater Farm Vineyard in Stonington.

They have expressed interest in opening a brewery in North Stonington.

First Selectman Mike Urgo referenced them in his written testimony by saying the town has "a well known brewery from Massachusetts considering locating their operations here in town. This would be an incredible opportunity for the town and a great fit for the local area. Without this bill 5036 breweries like this are not likely to call Connecticut home."

Wholesalers express opposition

Jude Malone, executive director of the Connecticut Beer Wholesalers Association, is troubled by breweries' ongoing requests to increase how much they can sell.

In 2005, the General Assembly passed a bill allowing beer manufacturers to sell beer for off-site consumption. In 2012, a law passed raising the limit from 8 to 9 liters of beer, thus allowing for the purchase of a case of 12-ounce beers.

A 2015 act created a farmers' market beer sales permit, and a 2017 law increased the amount of beer that could be sold to a person per day at a farmers' market.

Malone feels that removal of the 9-liter limit would continue an ongoing erosion of Connecticut's three-tier system of suppliers, wholesalers and retailers. She believes comparisons to Massachusetts are unfair, saying it's not an apples-to-apples comparison because of different permits required in the Bay State.

Malone believes the impact is "a slow death" for wholesalers.

In Rhode Island, a 2016 law allowed manufacturers to sell up to 288 ounces of malt beverages, which is the equivalent of two dozen 12-ounce beers, or one case.

Jennifer Brinton, owner of Grey Sail Brewing in Westerly, said she doesn't have a personal interest in seeing that raised.

"Our package stores have been extremely supportive of us since day one," Brinton said. She added, "We have no intention of being a resale shop that competes with our liquor stores, but that's because that's our model."

e.moser@theday.com

Grey Sail Brewing Company of Westerly owner Jennifer Brinton, center, helps can beer at the brewery on Feb. 28, 2012. She said she doesn't have a personal interest in seeing the limit raised on how much Connecticut brewers can sell per customer per day. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Grey Sail Brewing Company of Westerly owner Jennifer Brinton, center, helps can beer at the brewery on Feb. 28, 2012. She said she doesn't have a personal interest in seeing the limit raised on how much Connecticut brewers can sell per customer per day. (Tim Martin/The Day)

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