Brewer Cindy Mullikin and Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot
Left to right, Cindy Mullikin and Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot

Prince Frederick, MD – Maryland State Comptroller Peter Franchot has earned the scorn of some of his fellow Democrats and it seems the strategy of talking it over with a beer isn’t going to work. Beer, it seems, is at the core of the current dispute.

On March 22 Franchot came to Mully’s Brewery in Calvert County for a special happy hour to talk to lovers of locally brewed beer about his strategy going forward with his “Reform on Tap Act.” The measure was killed by the House Economic Matters Committee, which gave it an unfavorable report on—of all days—March 17, St. Patrick’s Day.

“Annapolis is just ‘business as usual,’ ” Franchot told the Mully’s gathering. “Budweiser and Miller people don’t like the craft beers. Those big companies hire the best lobbyists.” Franchot said members of the committee treated the local craft brewers “arrogantly” when they [local brewers] went to Annapolis to testify in favor of the bill.” Franchot said the behemoth beer distributors had the committee members “under their sway” and he intends to make the way the bill was discarded an election issue. “I am visiting every jurisdiction to talk about their elected officials. We have to repair the damages. Right now the distributor has a handcuff on the brewers.”

Franchot indicated the legislators’ kowtowing to the beer distributors’ lobbyists could destroy the entrepreneurial spirit of the Free State’s craft beer brewing industry. “We are talking about $650 million of economic activity that comes from brewers,” said Franchot. “I’m particularly bullish on this.” The comptroller noted that 6,500 Marylanders are employed by breweries. To hear Franchot talk, not only is the craft beer industry’s product more filling for the state tax coffers, it tastes great.

“Out-of-state beer—people don’t like the taste of it,” he declared. “But they love the home brews.”

On a web page that summarizes The Reform on Tap Act of 2018, Franchot stated that the measure proposes removing all limits on beer production, taproom sales and take-home sales; repeals the “buy-back” provision that requires brewers to purchase their beer from distributors at a marked-up cost if they exceed the 2,000-barrel limit on taproom sales; lifts unnecessary restrictions for take-home sales; guarantees the issuance of Class B or D beer licenses to microbreweries upon request; lets local jurisdictions set guidelines for taproom operating hours; allows smaller brewers to self-distribute; eliminates franchise law requirements; and removes restrictions on contract brewing that inhibits start-up businesses. The web page also includes a link to a petition citizens may sign in support of The Reform on Tap Act. Franchot said he believes the measure will pass next year when a new General Assembly is in session.

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller [D – District 27] was quoted in a political blog a few days after the legislation was killed in committee. On the blog Maryland Matters, the senate president blamed a Franchot aide for the measure’s scuttling, citing his unreasonable language directed at other players in the brew legislation. “Everybody can get along, the wholesalers, the brewers, the craft beer people, the distributors,” said Miller. “Government is about teamwork. It’s about people working together, listening to each other’s point of view. When you’re not talking you should be listening to somebody else and come up with a compromise position.”

Bob Hall LLC General Manager Eric Best told the Baltimore Sun, “while I think refinement of our laws is always important for a fluid process, I think it’s very important that all stakeholders have a say in the direction we’re going. It’s a very complex situation for a reason.” Best added that stakeholders like law enforcement and public health officials also need to be included in the discussion of beer law modifications.

“It allows us to have the opportunity to do a long-term business plan,” Cindy Mullikin said of The Reform on Tap Act. Mullikin, who along with her husband Jason, founded Mully’s Brewery in Prince Frederick, is the incoming president of the Brewers Association of Maryland. Limitations in place by the current state laws are hampering dozens of home-grown Maryland businesses from expanding, she said.
“It’s a high risk business,” said Franchot of the local craft beer enterprises. “We have not yet begun to fight. Next year we’re going to push the whole package through.”

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com