Proposed ‘streamlining’ bill potential boon for brewers

February 15, 2019 GMT

A proposed bill that would “streamline” Connecticut’s craft beer and spirits industry is getting mixed reviews.

While it would add new taxes, the proposal would cut the number of permits needed to get off the ground and increase the amount of beer and liquor breweries could sell to customers and stores.

“We are excited to see the introduction of bills that influence our craft beer industry in a positive way, and are eager to continue our conversations, working closely with our partners across the industry and the leaders in place to make positive, constructive and modernizing changes,” read a statement on the Connecticut Brewers Guild Facebook page.

Modernized industry

Though there are points to the bill that have garnered concern —like a new excise tax on beer sold in taprooms — representatives of the Brewers Guild said they see plenty of things worth keeping.


“We did see a lot of good things coming out of that bill, and there are some things that we want to keep that is in there,” said Phil Pappas, executive director for the guild.

The bill would reduce the number of manufacturing permits required for all facets of the craft spirits industry from five to one, which bodes well especially for brewers getting started.

“Those permits were introduced in the earlier days of the state’s craft beer market,” he said, explaining the craft beer market began taking off in Connecticut in 2012. “The industry has naturally changed since then, so I think it’s important for us to always keep a finger on the pulse regarding what we are doing with our business.”

Since its start, the industry has thrived, going from roughly a dozen to more than 85 operational breweries this year—with more on the way.

The bill will also significantly increase the amount that brewers would be able to sell. If passed, the limit on sales for off-premise consumption would jump from nine liters to 23 per day.

A component of the bill would also allow big box stores to sell beer in the main part of the store.

If passed, the proposed bill would allow “the sale of beer in a store with over 6,000 square feet of floor space (and) at least 20 percent of which is dedicated to the sale of groceries.”

“I think that will create a lot more opportunities for our product to be available to customers for purchase, especially because we believe that’s pretty much targeting the Walmart and Targets and capacity stores that we see there,” Pappas said. “That is exciting for us because we do see the opportunity for the wholesalers and distributers to get our products into more places.”

However, expanding the craft market to retailers like Walmart and Target may also create a dilemma for package stores — which traditionally have been the destinations for craft beer and spirits, since the industry took off, said package store lobbyist Caroll Hughes.


Connecticut breweries produced 166,848 barrels of beer in 2017, which resulted in the overall craft beer industry having a $718 million economic impact on Connecticut.

“If you allow Walmart (to carry craft beer), you displace our beer sales on (package store) premises and you put them in more financial jeopardy, and right now we are the sales place for most of the Connecticut products,” Hughes said.

Along with eating into a package store’s bottom line, he said, expanding into the big retail marketplaces could create problems for brewers that may not be able to meet the production demands created by both package stores and big box grocers.

Even if they could meet the demand, Hughes said, the added expense of increased distribution could also be an issue particularly for self-distributing brewers.

“This will kill them,” he said. “They are lucky if they have enough product — many of them — to give it to one or two retail stores on the premises. My package stores say they are lucky if they can get a constant supply.”

Consumer options

While industry observers and brewers debate the pros and cons of the bill, craft beer lovers may be indifferent on the matter so long as they can get their local brews.

“If this passes, I think it’s OK,” said Dylan McManus of New Haven. “If I’m in the store already, I would pick up the beer there but if I’m just going for a beer run, I would go to a package store.”

While he said some may argue to keep liquor and mega-retail stores separate, McManus, along with friend Mike Caiafa of North Haven, acknowledged the benefit of being able to pick up their favorite craft beer while in any size store for necessities.

“I think it would be good for stores like Walmart and Target to be able to sell craft beer,” Caiafa said. “It’s just adding to consumer choice, especially if they are already selling beers from larger companies. I think it would be good for there to be more options because some people just see it in passing.”