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Cutting the Red Tape

Ryan flew up to Rutgers in New Brunswick on Tuesday to testify in front of the Red Tape Review Commission. Helmed by Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, the mission of the RTRC is to create a business climate in New Jersey that facilitates job creation. They’re targeting burdensome regulations so that the business-to-government interaction is seamless and productive, while protecting public health, safety, and the environment.

“I got a giant novelty pair of scissors and CUT TAPE!” Ryan said. “I got a giant piece of tape and I cut it!”

He totally did. (No, not really.)

However, the legislation surrounding craft breweries may as well be bound in red tape.

“It went really well,” he said. “We spoke about our issues. I spoke from the heart, and to be able to raise our issues in front of someone in the Lieutenant Governor’s position is a great honor.”

Ryan was joined by the Guild’s Government Affairs Representative, Eric Orlando of Kaufman Zita Group. Willow Creek Winery and Diane Wieland, Director of Tourism for Cape May County, were on hand as well. Ryan reports that Diane’s testimony was much the same as his: that the restrictions on breweries should be lifted to be along the same lines as wineries.

“Neighboring states like New York and Pennsylvania have already blazed a trail in recent years towards finding ways government can help, not hinder, the development of their homegrown craft beverage industries,” Eric says. “New Jersey’s elected officials, like those which sit on the Red Tape Review Commission, including the Lt. Governor, should use these states and others as the templates for fixing an alcohol beverage control system which does not recognize the realities and trends of the state’s craft beer, wine and spirits industries.”

We like to look at the alcoholic beverage industry in New Jersey as a cohesive whole, encompassing breweries, wineries, and distilleries. It only makes sense, as we’re all doing the same basic thing: producing an alcoholic product that people enjoy drinking.

However, the regulations surrounding the different products are quite different.

As you know, breweries in New Jersey are mandated to require a tour. There’s no such rule for wineries or the pending legislation for meaderies or cideries. We don’t mind showing you around — in fact, we love doing it! — but requiring you to take a tour on every, single visit is just a bit much. Our self-guided tour fills the need rather nicely — you have no choice but to walk through it — but why aren’t wineries required to do the same?

A further point of contention is our ability to serve food. Our visitors’ safety is our utmost concern, and while it’s a well-known fact that food absorbs alcohol and slows the rate of intoxication, we’re prohibited from serving so much as a bag of chips. Wineries, however, can serve seven-course meals. That’s not only unfair, it’s dangerous.

Our allowed entertainment differs, too. You may have noticed that we’ve got Pandora going and an old movie playing on Netflix on our gigantic projection screen. That’s not by choice — that’s all we’re allowed to show. How great would it be to get bands down here? How much fun would it be to get a comedy act once in awhile? Well… we can’t. But wineries can.

If it sounds like sour grapes — pun intended — it is. Breweries are treated like the red-headed stepchild of the liquor industry in New Jersey, and it’s high time it’s come to an end. We’re not even asking for special treatment — all we want is to be treated on the same level playing field as the rest of the industry.

Ryan’s testimony appears to be working. There are plans afoot to create a summit, gathering together the state’s wineries, breweries, distilleries, and possible restaurants to come to some sort of an understanding.

“The Guild would love to take the lead on these endeavors,” Eric notes.

Let’s face it: there’s a lot of common ground, here. There are a number of ways we could come together to assist each other. Beyond the obvious commonality of creating alcoholic beverages, we could conceivably partner with one of the area wineries and serve their wine in our Tasting Room and they could serve our beer in theirs. We could serve the beers of other breweries. We could partner with an area restaurant to get some tasty vittles here in the Tasting Room. We’re just spitballing here, but there are so many ways we could come together to help each other.

This summit sounds like a fantastic idea. Let’s hope that our lawmakers in Trenton take some of the suggestions we devise.

Until then, Ryan’s going to keep fighting the good fight, ensuring that New Jersey’s craft brewers have every opportunity open to them. And ensuring that you can get wider access to the great brews you’ve come to love.