Bill would let breweries sell more beer, but could make some facilities shut down earlier

Plans for a Guinness brewery also hinge on bill

HALETHORPE, MD - For 21 years, Heavy Seas has been brewing beers in Maryland. The company offers nine brews year-round, as well as limited releases and specialty beers.

At its Baltimore County plant and taproom, Heavy Seas Beers sees thousands of people year-round for tours and tastings.

"The increase and the amount of foot traffic, and the increase in the amount of tourism that we see is really at a fever pitch right now,” said Heavy Seas Beers Director of Marketing and Hospitality, Fred Crudder.  “People really want to get inside the brewery, they want to see and touch the people and the places where their beer comes from."

A bill moving through Annapolis would allow breweries like Heavy Seas to sell more beer onsite.  An idea many companies are raising a glass to.

Right now, Maryland breweries can legally sell 500 barrels of beer annually from their taprooms that equals about 125,000 pints.  The proposed bill would up that limit to nearly 500,000 pints per year.

With a taproom expansion in the works, Crudder says that increased barrel cap would come in handy.          

It's the part in the proposed legislation that limits the hours breweries could sell their beer that's getting pushback.  Under the bill, facilities could only be open to customers from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

"Some brewers are very dependent on their onsite business, and for the hours to be reduced that they're allowed to do that business, would greatly handicap them and their ability to succeed,” Crudder said.  "Our position on this legislation is that if it's gonna harm anybody in this industry then it's not good."

Plans to bring a Guinness brewery to the county also hinge on this bill.

Parent company Diageo wants to invest $50 million to transform an old distillery into a Guinness brewery with tours, tastings and production modeled after its Open Gate Brewery in Dublin.       

"It's a big project, we're very excited about being able to do this,” Diageo Senior Director of Government Affairs, Dwayne Kratt said over the phone.  “It's going to be about 70 new job,s and our initial benchmarking suggests that we could have up to 300,000 visitors in our first full year of operation."

The company wants to build a brewery, an area for tours and tastings, an innovation microbrewery as well as space for beer production and warehouses on the site.  Diageo hopes to break ground on the Guinness project this spring and open in October to mark the 200th anniversary of Guinness' import to the U.S.

Officials tell ABC2 News the Baltimore County plant would brew new and experimental beers, leaving the iconic Guinness stout to be produced in Ireland.  It would be the first time in more than 60-years Guinness is made in the United States.

According to Kratt, Diageo is also hopeful some of the language in the Annapolis bill, along with the restrictive hours will be tweaked before the legislation gets passed so it benefits breweries across Maryland.
"We started the process with a local bill, but we said all along that we would absolutely favor a state-wide fix," he said.

The brewery bill was approved by the House of Delegates over the weekend, and now heads to the Senate.  The Maryland General Assembly wraps up for the session on April 10.

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