Rhode Island loosens restrictions on direct beer sales by brewers

Earlier this month, Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee enacted a bill that doubles the limit on beer and spirits that customers can purchase directly from breweries and distilleries in the state.

the measured was sponsored by State Representative Justine Caldwell and State Senator Melissa Murray, although that is just not enough, says a local brewer.

Matt Gray, who owns Ragged Island Brewery in Portsmouth and is the Marketing Chair of Rhode Island Brewers Guild, said they were always happy to see an increase in sales capacity, but that was not exactly what they were looking for.

“It’s a little disappointing that the state hasn’t increased our ability to sell to a greater degree,” he told the Daily News. “We requested 10 cases in total value and only received one additional case. While it may appear to have gained 100% sell capacity, when you request 10 crates and they give you an additional crate, it doesn’t. exactly a compromise. “

Matt Gray, owner of the Ragged Island Brewery.

Gregory Martell, who opened Reject Brewing Co. in December, said the increase would help his new brewing business grow and potentially contribute to the community.

A three-tier system

The reason the Brewers Guild and the Brewers have called for a 10-case increase is that across New England – and directly over the Massachusetts state border – breweries have unlimited capacity to sell products.

“It’s not entirely fair that the breweries in Rhode Island, which now number 38, I believe, with all of our manufacturing jobs and growth over the past few years, are still constrained by archaic post-ban laws, ”Gray said.

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Gray said these laws hamper the growth of his business and the ability to directly sell different types of products, such as kegs.

“If we have people who are looking for kegs for a party or a wedding, something like that, we are unfortunately not allowed to (sell) directly so we have to engage with our other partners in a three tier system. what the state works on, ”he said.

For breweries, the three levels are manufacturer, middleman / wholesaler and retailer. Gray said taking these steps to sell product adds expense along the way, forcing brewers to sell their product at a discount in order to keep it at market rate.

Any legislation helps

“At the end of the day, we can (now) sell twice as much beer per person. It’s an increase in revenue that allows us to invest in our people, our equipment and, ultimately, our product,” Martell said. .

The increase, he said, gives them more opportunities to compete with neighboring states and gives them the opportunity to expand their businesses.

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“Growth helps improve equipment and quality, as well as hire more people. More beer means more jobs, which in turn equates to more opportunities to support our community, ”he said. “It’s a bit of a cliché these days, but a high tide certainly lifts all ships.”

He agreed that being able to sell casks directly to the consumer would be a big win for the Rhode Island industry.

“Cask sales have always been tough in Rhode Island,” Martell said. “You have to contact a liquor store, which contacts a wholesaler, who then contacts the brewery. We provide them with the keg, and by that way it can sometimes take weeks for a customer to have one of our kegs. for a party.

“Raising the packaging specifications on current legislation would allow us to provide this service in a faster and ‘new’ way,” he said.

Gregory Martell, co-owner of Rejects Beer Company, pours a pint into the new brewery on Aquidneck Avenue in Middletown.

Despite the limits on direct sales, Martell said business has been booming since opening late last year.

“Business has been absolutely crazy and is only growing. To see how loyal and supportive people are since we opened up completely is just amazing,” he said. “We get a healthy mix of locals and passing tourists.”

Alcohol legislation makes no sense compared to other manufacturers

Ragged Island Brewery has been in business since March 2017. It is still a small brewery compared to others in the state, but looks to grow over the next few years as it evolves into a farm brewery.

Gray said the virtual ban on direct-to-consumer sales was frustrating for brewery owners.

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“We get people from out of town who don’t know the rules of Rhode Island. We can only sell them a case, (when) maybe they came with the intention of buy two, three or four, ”he said. “Once the rules change we will be able to sell two which is better, but the ability to sell more product directly will always be good for breweries.”

While the state’s brewers enjoy the little bump, Gray said they will continue to fight for further increases.

“We do not see that (the new legislation is) close to what we were asking for and we will definitely come back asking for the same that was asked of us this year next year,” he said.

He said the laws made no sense.

“If you consider all of the other manufacturers in the state of Rhode Island, whether it’s a jewelry maker or someone like a farm that sells milk, there’s no restriction on that. that they can do, or how they can do it, and the volume they can do at, “he explained. “We are very unique, I believe, in that as a manufacturer of beer, especially beer, and not just alcohol, but specifically beer, what we can sell directly to consumers is very hampered by these archaic laws. “

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Gray said lawmakers need to understand how outdated these century-old regulations are and while they were implemented to protect consumers at the time, they need to be updated. The Brewers Guild, he said, will devote time by the next legislative session to educating members of the General Assembly.

When these laws were created, Gray said, there were only a handful of brewers in Rhode Island.

“Now we have a situation where 100 years have passed,” he said. “Small batch brewing and manufacturing is now back and better than ever, but the laws have not changed to allow us to grow even further and have a greater economic impact on our local communities and the State as a whole. “

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Gray said he believes local lawmakers are okay with what the Brewers Guild is asking for and have pushed those goals this year. But the legislation was passed as it did because of other lawmakers from other districts.

“It’s really frustrating from a small business perspective because job creation and manufacturing jobs at that degree are business cards that some of these politicians use all the time to get elected,” Gray said. . “But here we are with a very simple solution that would be a win-win for everyone, but we are apparently here asking for more when we are given just a little more.”

Bethany Brunelle can be reached at [email protected] 907-575-8528 or @bethanyfreuden1 on Twitter, Insta: bethanyfreudenthal, TikTok: thehijabicrimereporter, Muckrack: https://muckrack.com/bethany-freudenthal

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