Good news is a brew for New Jersey craft beer advocates. In February 2018, the New Jersey Assembly’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee paved the way for the introduction of Bill A2196, which would remove a current licensing rule requiring breweries and distilleries to provide a tour of their facilities before serving alcoholic beverages to consumers. Currently, breweries holding a New Jersey Limited Brewery License are prohibited from selling their brews at the brewery, unless patrons first complete a tour of the premises. This requirement applies to every customer, regardless of whether it is their first or fifteenth visit to a particular brewery, and failure to issue a tour can result in a hefty fine. If passed, Bill A2196 would be the latest step in a number of recent legislative changes aimed at easing New Jersey’s complex and stringent liquor laws.
New Jersey craft beer production has exploded over the past four years. As of February 2018, the New Jersey Craft Beer Association has identified ninety-eight breweries and brew pubs in the State of New Jersey, as well as twenty-four “startup” breweries in the process of obtaining licensing or permits. The growth of craft breweries in the State is in no small part due to a trend in Trenton towards loosening the State’s strict liquor laws by steadily expanding the rights for breweries with Limited Brewery Licensees.
Prior to 2013, breweries were limited to selling their products to licensed retailers and wholesalers. If a brewery was interested in establishing a tasting room, it would be required to obtain a special permit—issued by a different regulatory agency—that limited service to 4 oz. samples. Then, in December 2013, a noticeable shift in policy took hold when the Limited Brewery License was amended to consolidate these laws and permit the consumption of full-sized beers on the premises. The amendment permitted breweries to sell their brews on site for consumption, but only if such beverages were offered in connection with a brewery or distillery tour.