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Senate Bill 97 – Massachusetts Nanobrewers to Sell at Farmers Markets

Over the last five years, Massachusetts (and the rest of New England) has seen a steady increase in the number of farm wineries and nanobreweries. According to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, or the ABCC, 10 “farm-breweries” were licensed last year in Massachusetts alone.

Three years ago, as part of an economic development bill, Senator James B. Eldridge drafted legislature that would allow for local farm wineries and breweries to sell product at farmers markets. In August 2010, half of the bill passed.

“The bill originally included craft beer, but the ABCC wanted to embrace the idea slowly. So we agreed to just do farm wineries,” explained Eldridge.

According to a 2011 report by the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture, farm wineries said that sales increased 66% since being allowed to sell at farmers markets. 82% said they had an increased number of visitors to their wineries, and 94% reported increased recognition for their product due to exposure at farmers markets.

After two years of marked success among farm wineries at farmers markets, the Senator decided to push for local craft beer brewers again. After working closely with the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture, in January 2013, Senate Bill 97 was put in motion.

The bill was filed in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and is currently awaiting a public hearing with the Committee of Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. The bill is essentially the exact same bill that passed three years ago, except with “farm-brewer” replacing “farm wineries.”

The senator plans to work with the ABCC to ensure everyone is on the same page.

“If there are any changes that they want to make, we will work with them,” said Eldridge.

One area of the bill that still needs resolution is determining what constitutes a local beer. The topic has been a gray area, and was a highly-debated topic during the first go-around of the bill in 2010. The Senator explained that a “significant percentage” of ingredients should come from local sources.

“It’s a tough issue. What’s the balance? 50%? Higher? Lower? We don’t want local beer made from stuff in New York and California and sold at farmers markets in Massachusetts,” Eldridge explained.

To address this issue, the bill (last paragraph of section 5) allows for an advisory committee, which will be made up of members representing breweries, farmers, farmers markets, the ABCC, etc., rather than one single agency. The goal of the advisory committee is to explore the issue of what constitutes “local beer” in an appropriate setting.

The bill itself does not institute any ingredient percentage requirements.

“We want local beer to encourage local jobs and local agriculture. It’s a balancing act, and I know the ABCC is focused on that as well,” he added.

Unfortunately for antsy nanobrewers and farmers market shoppers, Massachusetts operates on a two-year legislative session, and it could take that long before the bill becomes law.

“Since it’s the first time it’s filed alone, it would be optimistic to say a year before a decision is made,” said Eldridge.

Despite not even being legal yet, organizers at the Boston Public Market Association already have plans to include beer vendors at their newly proposed year-round farmers market. Set to open in 2014, the blueprint for the space includes a 345 square-foot space for one lucky nanobrewery.

It is believed that other market organizers will follow suit if and when the bill passes into law.

“This bill certainly has had more enthusiasm for it than other bills I’ve worked on before,” said Eldridge.

A public hearing for the bill will be held in the future, where testimonials, comments, and suggestions can be offered to the Committee of Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. Stay tuned for information about the hearing.

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