New law lets brewpubs sell beer beyond pub

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GRANBY, Conn. (AP) – Bottoms up! Brewpubs in Connecticut have reason to celebrate. Their handcrafted brews now can be sold beyond their pubs.

A new state law that took effect June 29 scraps a 77-year-old provision in state liquor regulations that has prevented Connecticut’s nine brewpubs from having their beers, ales and stouts bottled and distributed. The law now allows them to sell the brews to wholesalers for distribution.

For Steve Boucino and Scott Scanlon, owners of The Cambridge House in Granby, the new law is the key to their dreams. The two former “insurance guys” opened their Granby brewpub two years ago and have wanted to open more to showcase their award-winning Copper Hill Kolsch, Abijah Rowe India Pale Ale and other beers.

“Let’s be the next Sam Adams,” said Boucino, referring to the successful Boston beer company that was founded in 1984 by Jim Koch. “Let’s take our beer coast to coast.”

Part of their vision is to have a bottling and distribution brewery, producing their beer for retail establishments and restaurants, as well as the pubs.

There are about 1,400 craft brewers in the U.S., according to the Brewers Association, based in Boulder, Colo. Of those, 974 are brewpubs. The association defines a craft brewer as someone who produces 2 million barrels or less of beer a year, is independently owned and uses traditional ingredients. Typically, they produce malt-based beers.

Distribution laws vary across the country, according to the association.

“The trend is, when things are friendly to the environment of smaller brewers, they’re going to thrive,” said Julia Herz, the association’s director of craft beer marketing. “The craft brewers are the mom and pops of the brewers in the U.S. So, it’s a good thing to help these folks.”

The popularity of craft beer, Herz said, stems from a grass roots push for better beer. It has become a $4.7 billion industry. While craft beer lags far behind the big beer producers, garnering 3.2 percent of total beer sales by volume and 4.9 percent of the sales by dollars, the desire for craft beer is growing. According to the association, sales jumped 31.5 percent over the last three years.

“Consumers are demanding flavorful beer. This is not a market-driven phenomena,” Herz said.

Until the law change, Connecticut was the only state in New England where brewpubs could not sell their beer to wholesalers or distributors, Boucino said. So he decided this year to hire a lobbyist at the state Capitol and try and change the law. Loyal fans of The Cambridge House brews flooded state legislators with e-mails, urging them to back the bill.

Sen. Thomas Colapietro, D-Bristol, co-chairman of the General Law Committee, said he made sure the new law did not allow the brewpubs to distribute the beer on their own. Rather, the legislation protects the current system, where wholesalers buy the beer from the brewer and then sell it to the retailers, many of whom want to sell local beers.

“It gives everybody their piece of the pie,” he said.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who signed the bill into law June 25, sees the legislation as a boost to small businesses.

“This new law represents a win-win situation,” said Rell’s spokesman, Adam Liegeot. “It will enable state brew pubs to expand and grow jobs, which in turn produces additional tax revenue for cities and towns. This law is the result of small business owners letting their voices be heard by the state legislature.”

Boucino, 40, and Scanlon, 43, who had seriously considered moving their operation four miles north to Massachusetts before Connecticut’s new law passed, said they’re now in the process of opening a new 13,000-square-foot facility in Torrington and are considering a third site. The Torrington business will house a restaurant and a brewery. They plan to bottle their beers in variety 12-packs. The number 7138 will appear on each bottle, referring to the bill that became the new law.

With the new Torrington brewpub, the pair’s payroll will double.

“Because of the legislature, there are 40 more jobs in the state of Connecticut,” Boucino said.

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