Government

Local Beer and Wine Takes on Rhode Island Alcohol Lobby

PROVIDENCE — Local beer and wine isn’t being sold yet at farmers markets because some of Rhode Island’s most formidable lobbyists are opposing a bill that would allow such sales.

At the bill’s first hearing on Feb. 5, lobbyists and store owners said the proposal threatens the profits of liquor stores. “It takes from one industry group and tries to give to another,” said Robert Goldberg of the United Independent Liquor Retailers of Rhode Island. “This is a big-business bill.”

The legislation, Goldberg said, bypasses the state’s “three-tiered” system that requires makers of beer, wine and spirits to only sell their products through wholesale distributors. Some exceptions are allowed — brewpubs and wineries are permitted to sell from their establishments.

Beer and wine tasting are currently allowed at Rhode Island farmers market, but sales are not permitted. In recent years, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and New York approved sales of beer and/or wine.

The bill only allows vintners and beer makers who grow most of their own ingredients to sell at farmers markets. Rep. Jared Nunes, D-Coventry, the sponsor of he legislation, said the bill supports the makers of small batches of wine or beer.

Brian Goldman of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Rhode Island argued that large national wineries would take advantage of the program, “You conceivably could have Gallo (wine company) come in and sell at these farmers markets,” he said. “There are people out there who want to dismantle the system.”

Sarah Lester, manager of 11 farmers markets for Farm Fresh Rhode Island, said there is demand for locally made wine and beer at the state’s 50 or so farmers markets. The legislation also gives farmers another opportunity to stay in business, she said.

Matt Richardson, owner of Ocean State Hops, grows 1-acre of hops on his farm in Exeter. If the legislation passes, he said, he would expand the crop to meet demand for hops from local brewers. The economic growth, he explained, would not just benenfit farmers markets but spur growth in agriculture.

Most members of the House Corporation Committee spoke favorably of the bill. Nunes, a member of the committee, said the legislation will be revised before a second hearing is held.

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  1. Competition is good for consumers. If liquor stores can't compete then they're doing something wrong and need to step up their game! And another thing that'll be very good for consumers is to legalize marijuana like beer and wine.

    Marijuana is significantly milder, safer and less addictive than alcohol and we could prevent a lot of the harm that alcohol causes by letting people choose marijuana instead of alcohol. For the good of our children, we need to legalize adult marijuana sales!

  2. This bill is nice as far as it goes, but doesn't do anything for the existing breweries in the state. To sell at a farmers' market, one would need a "farmer-brewery" license. This requires the brewery to produce all or most of the ingredients to be used in its beers. Currently, none of the existing breweries or brewpubs in RI operate on a farm or have the ability to produce anything close to the required amount of malts or hops for even a small commercial brewery.

    If there were actually a farmer-brewer in the state, I would love to see them selling at farmers' markets and fairs, but that is all this law allows.

  3. @Nate, I agree it doesn't do much for existing operations… Though, as far as I know there's no definition on the books for a Farmer-Brewery in RI at this time. I like that this bill would provide that definition and possibly stir some other guys to follow in your footsteps. The monolithic three tier system has been in place for 80 years, it may be time to rethink parts of it to benefit consumers, smaller breweries and promote fair competition. This bill is a step in that direction.

  4. Hey Nate, the main purpose of the bill is to encourage the development of farmer breweries (which currently aren't allowed) and also allow farmers who grow their own ingredients and produce their own beer or wine to be able to sell at farmer's markets, similar to farmers who make their own cheese or syrup and currently are allowed to sell at these markets. Many other states allow this now and this would let RI follow suit. It's not that the bill isn't supportive of existing breweries but It's not really aimed at "traditional" breweries and wineries.

  5. It is great to support beer being made in any way, and I am a big fan of local farms. I'd also be thrilled to see more locally grown ingredients available.

    I responded for a couple of reasons. The title includes "Local beer" as someone pushing this; we are not. The first line implicates opposition to this law as the reason beer isn't being sold at farmers markets; in reality, even if the law passed we wouldn't see beer sold there since there is nobody to sell it (yet). It is several paragraphs before it becomes clear that this is just for farmer brewers.

    In the second to last paragraph a farmer is quoted, basically saying that he would grow more hops for local brewers if this passes. This again has the implication that somehow using local ingredients would allow a brewery to qualify for this bill, which doesn't seem to be the case. It adds a bit of confusion.

    I have seen this article linked to a couple of times on Facebook with the mistaken interpretation that this will allow current beers to be served.

  6. I see your point about the title being a little misleading, Nate. Maybe the author meant local beer and wine enthusiasts and not breweries in particular? I'm not sure. About the farmer quote, that was me and what I was implying is that if the farmer brewery law is passed and there is more demand from local breweries (farm breweries or otherwise) it could lead to a spur in agricultural growth as well as economic growth.

    On a side note, I've noticed a few states passing legislation aimed at helping nanobreweries also lately (NH is one that I know of). That might be something to look into for helping the smaller, existing breweries in RI.

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