Craft Breweries | Globe Editorial

Beer regulators run amok

August 5, 2011

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IF THE state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission wanted to nudge small beer makers and craft brewers to use more local farm products, it could have done so gently - and long before now. Instead, an abrupt, ill-conceived policy change by the agency could force specialty brewers from the field and undermine what has become a good source of employment, enjoyment, and high-quality malt beverages.

At issue is the interpretation of the farmer-brewer license issued to 26 beer makers who pay just a small fee to the state, as long as they limit how many barrels they produce. The special license also allows the small beer makers to sell their product directly to the public, bypassing industry middlemen. Under the spirit of the 1982 law, the beer makers are expected to promote Massachusetts agriculture by using products from local farms in the manufacturing process. But the requirement was loosely defined until the commission issued an advisory this week requiring license holders to grow, or to buy locally, at least 50 percent of the grains and hops they use to make their beer. This standard will be all but impossible to meet.

The commission, which oversees 22,000 liquor-related businesses in the state, is really overreaching. Its decision comes amid revelations of political hiring at the agency and costly legal settlements in employment cases - revelations that cast the panel’s decision-making in recent years in a profoundly unfavorable light.

New state treasurer Steve Grossman, who oversees the commission, said yesterday he will meet personally with the small beer makers Monday. He called the 50-percent standard “an excessively high barrier.’’ And he urged them to view the advisory as a “work in progress’’ with plenty of opportunity for input. A compromise, he indicated, could promote jobs in brewing while nourishing opportunities in the agricultural sector.

But the whole exercise is unnecessary. The best course is simply to renew the brewers’ licenses. They are already providing top-quality beers and creating jobs by finding less expensive routes to market. And they already purchase local crops, including pumpkins and blueberries, for their specialty brews. What they’re doing right now is just fine.