A slew of regulations promulgated by the New Jersey Alcoholic Beverage Commission, generally viewed to have been passed at the behest of the state’s powerful liquor lobby, has some brewery owners considering a move out-of-state – just as a local brewery is making a significant investment in Brick Township.
The new regulations, which went into effect July 1, impose about eight new major restrictions on breweries, ranging from a prohibition of the serving of food or soft drinks, to what can be shown on television while the business is open. The Brick Township council passed a resolution formally opposing the restrictions in a recent 6-1 vote, with Councilwoman Andrea Zapcic representing the sole dissenting stance.
Icarus Brewing, a local brewery that has seen significant success in recent years at its location in Lakewood, announced it was moving to Brick last year. According to county tax records, the company paid $2.1 million for the purchase of the former Shore Restaurant Supply property on Route 88, which was later demolished. A new brewery complex is planned to be constructed at the site, making it one of the township’s most significant commercial investments.
“We’re not trying to cut anyone out by having breweries – we want to have more places for people to enjoy themselves,” said Mayor John Ducey, endorsing the resolution opposing the state’s regulations.
In short, the ABC’s new rules do the following:
- Require a brewery tour before any beer can be consumed on or off site.
- Food is banned from being sold at breweries with the exception of “water and single-serve, pre-packaged crackers, chips, nuts and similar snacks.” Third party food trucks are also banned from brewery properties.
- No mixed drinks containing beer may be sold.
- No free drinks or discounted drinks are allowed.
- Breweries may not sell coffee or soda that is not physically brewed at the facility.
- Breweries are banned from hosting “pop up’ shops, bazaars, or craft shows.”
- A brewery may not host more than 25 special events per year, such as trivia nights, bingo games, televised sporting events, or live music.
- Breweries are prohibited from showing any television program — news, sports, entertainment and so on — that the brewery “markets via social media.”
- A brewery may not hire an outside marketing company to assist with any special event.
Political observers statewide – as well as many elected officials scattered across New Jersey – have said the ABC’s regulations can largely be tracked to lobbyists representing the state’s bars and nightclubs that hold traditional liquor licenses. Under New Jersey’s unique (to put it kindly) liquor licensing laws, towns can sell such licenses for hundreds of thousands of dollars – in some locations, more than $1 million – which has had the cumulative effect of promoting the construction of large chain restaurants over locally-owned establishments. Holders of the licenses are most prominently represented by the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association, the name of which some have decried as deceptive since it does not make mention of the organization’s heavy lobbying in favor of those few businesses that can actually afford the exorbitant cost of being able to do business under the current regulations. The mission is maintain the status quo – and never advance it.
The lobbying groups have aggressively acted against breweries since license-holders consider breweries to be competing businesses.
Ducey rightly, and alarmingly, said the regulations could have a particularly negative effect on Icarus.
“One of the things Icarus does do is go to off-site festivals, and now they’re going to be limited in doing this,” the mayor said. “There are even restrictions on the types of TV shows they can have on or the music they’re able to play.”
The regulations were initially proposed in 2019, causing a similar outcry. The measures were delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, but quietly re-emerged this summer and went into effect. The ABC, for its part, outright acknowledged the influence of the liquor lobby on its decision-making, telling CBS News in 2019 that the ruling was meant to “strike a balance between the craft brewing industry and restaurants.”
There are few who would argue New Jersey fosters a positive environment for small business owners and entrepreneurs, even in the absence of draconian regulations that purposefully target proprietors. It is shameful that the state has done what is seemingly impossible, clearly at the behest of a special interest, in making itself even more business-unfriendly. But, if there is a silver lining, it is that a strong majority of Brick Township’s elected officials saw through another disastrous and woefully corrupt Trenton policy – and said something about it.