Small beer brewers in Massachusetts were shocked this week, when the state alcohol commission announced a new rule that any "farmer-brewers" in the state must grow at least 50 percent of their beer's hops and grain themselves, or get them from a domestic farm they've contracted with for the purpose.
When it announced the advisory, the commission emphasized that farmer-brewer licenses were created to encourage development of the state's domestic farms. But the license also costs far less money than a full "manufacturer" permit.
The new rule will reportedly affect more than 24 small breweries in Massachusetts.
From WBUR's Public Radio Kitchen, producer-contributor Anna Pinkert got reactions from the brewing industry, who say they're going to have a problem meeting the requirements:
Rob Martin, president of the Massachusetts Brewers Association and owner of Ipswich Ale Brewery, says his business has good relationships with local farmers. He buys local pumpkins and blueberries for his seasonal beers, and gives his spent grain to a cattle farmer for free. However, he says that it would be impossible to find enough local grain and hops to produce his beer.
Grains used to make beer need to be malted first, and there is currently only one malting facility in Massachusetts. Andrea Stanley, who owns Valley Malt in Hadley with her husband, says that her business is running at capacity and the new "50 percent" rule would not be sustainable.
The regulation change came as a shock to many in the craft beer industry. Jeremy Goldberg of Cape Ann Brewing in Gloucester called the decision an "arbitrary rules change." He, like many, use the license as a way to produce, pour, and distribute beer on site. Without the farmer-brewer license, brewers would need to acquire separate licenses from the state to manufacture and distribute their own beer.
The alcohol commission says that small breweries who have trouble meeting its criteria for farmer-brewer licenses are "on notice" that they will face scrutiny when their licenses come up for renewal. Those brewers who fall short "are welcome to apply for a manufacturer's license," the commission says.
The Massachusetts Brewers Guild wrote an email to its members about the advisory, saying that "a manufacture's license can cost up to $10,000, as opposed to about $500 for a farmer-brewer license," as quoted by the Worcester Business Journal.