Maine’s craft beer laws need another growler-sized update from lawmakers to grow the industry
When it comes to Maine’s micro-brew tasting laws, they certainly don’t live up to Maine’s slogan – “The Way Life Should Be”. In fact, it wasn’t until quite recently that we consumers could really enjoy some of the best craft brews in the country at local events, even though they may have been brewed just a short drive away.
Maine’s micro-brew scene has seen an explosion of growth, interest and refinement over the last ten years and it is poised to become one of the fastest growing markets, particularly with regard to beer tourism, as consumers from out-of-state flock to Maine to sample the latest brews at nearly 70 breweries – 27 of which are brew-pubs. Although growth is expected to continue over the next five years or more, it hasn’t been without pain in achieving this success, and challenges have already presented themselves for breweries that are trying to cater to a clientele looking for brews made from locally-sourced ingredients.
Prior to 2013, Maine’s laws and regulations governing the beer and wine sector really stifled an industry that shows remarkable potential for growth. Our antiquated laws, most of which were enacted immediately following prohibition, not only affected the brewing process, but perhaps more importantly, convoluted laws that really prevented local breweries from showcasing their crafts at beer festivals and other tasting events within the state or at their own facilities.
Fortunately for the industry, and the beer loving public, a virtual overhaul in our laws was achieved in 2013, largely credited to the work of the Maine Brewers Guild President Heather Sanborn, who also just happens to be the co–owner of Rising Tide Brewing Co. in Portland. Her efforts, and those of many others both in and out of Augusta, set the stage for growth in the industry when it comes to the exposure breweries can now obtain through festivals and tasting events, both in-house and off-site to the general public.
According to the Brewers Association, a national trade group, Maine ranks 6th nationally for breweries per capita, and the $470 million the industry brought into the state in 2014 led to a rank of 7th nationally for economic impact. Unfortunately, earlier this year the legislature chose not to vote on legislation that would have allowed brew pubs, those facilities that have both a brewery and restaurant attached, to sell their beer, either in six-pack or case form directly from their facility. This restriction undermines the profit potential of small breweries that, in many cases, are simply trying to break-even financially.
The rewriting of Maine’s laws when it comes to special tasting events, such as beer and wine festivals, has the potential to have a major positive effect on the industry. However more needs to be done. Under the new law, there is still some confusion between the intent of the law and on how it’s interpreted by municipal officials when it comes to the amount of beer or wine that can be poured.
This mixed interpretation has the potential to cause festival promoters and the breweries/wineries in
particular, financial and logistic problems in the future if not addressed. With over 1,500 direct jobs in
the industry, coupled with the huge economic impact the industry is expected to have within the state,
the legislature solved many of the problems within the industry with legislation enacted in 2013, but much more needs to be done, both in terms of direct sales from brewers/wineries, as well as public tasting events if we truly want this industry to grow.