Maryland craft brewers mingled with state officials including Governor Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot on Wednesday, Feb. 6 at Federal House Bar & Grille, to toast Maryland Craft Beer Lovers Month, otherwise known as FeBREWary.

The event, hosted by the Brewers Association of Maryland (BAM), is one of several this month aimed at celebrating craft beer produced in the state. It precedes Love Thy Beer: Winter Warmer Showcase in Silver Spring on Feb. 15 and Shore Craft Beer Fest: Love on Tap at Seacrets in Ocean City on Feb. 23.

“We’re in a legislative session, and after a long, hard day of dealing with Miller and Busch, you go home and you just need a nice, cold Maryland craft beer,” Hogan said.

“After the election… I went on this diet, and I haven’t had a beer since the election,” he said. “The good news is, I’ve lost more than 30 lbs. The bad news is, I haven’t been supporting the industry.”

Jokes aside, the toast to FeBREWary at Federal House wasn’t just an opportunity for brewers and dignitaries to share a craft beer over conversation; It was also a moment to reiterate the state-wide push to improve Maryland’s craft beer legislation in 2019.

In 2018, the state’s craft brewing community and its allies, Franchot and Hogan among them, did not convince the legislature to ease up on craft brewery regulations that are currently still in place. These regulations, they argued, hinder the growth of small breweries in favor of larger, out-of-state companies like Anheuser-Busch, which do not contribute nearly as much to Maryland’s economic growth as small, locally-owned businesses. 

Franchot’s House Bill 518, better known as the Reform on Tap Act, was introduced as the solution to this problem. It proposed the state remove limits on brewery taproom and take-home sales, production, and self-distribution. It also sought to eliminate a franchise law provision that tethers breweries to their wholesale distributors, and a buyback provision that forces breweries to buy back their own product from wholesalers after they surpass their taproom sales limit. 

This bill, the Reform on Tap Taskforce argued, would make Maryland more competitive with neighboring states, help grow breweries that are already established within the state, and encourage more brewers to open up their taprooms in Maryland. HB518 did not pass in 2018, but champions of the bill promised to try again and keep pushing for craft beer reform in the 2019 session.

Nationwide, Maryland is currently ranked 47th in economic impact, 36th in number of breweries, and 25th in gallons produced per adult aged 21+. Hence the movement to better the state’s craft beer industry and reform current legislation.

“What we’re dealing with now isn’t just beer, it’s the future of the state of Maryland,” Franchot said from the floor beneath the podium at Federal House on Wednesday. “It’s very simple but as soon as you ask a legislator about franchise law, they have a blank face because they don’t like anything other than Budweiser, Miller, Coors, the out-of-state corporate interests.”

“A plant will sprout in a piece of concrete, that’s how creative and entrepreneurial you guys are,” he continued. “But why can’t we change it from concrete to a nice fertile garden where you can grow and do what you’re good at, which is producing good beer and selling it to Marylanders?”

Kevin Atticks, Executive Director of the Brewers Association of Maryland, wrapped up the toast with a mention of BAM’s latest legislative efforts.

“We have three pieces of legislation this year,” he said. “We went from having 20 sponsors on bills last year to the current tally right now, 85 sponsors of our legislation. These are Democrats, these are Republicans, these are folks from rural areas, these are folks from the cities of Baltimore and Frederick and beyond. We’re thrilled to have bipartisan support this year.”

“We are confident that we’re going to make incredible, generational changes to our brewery laws this year.”

You can watch the speakers at the event down below, recorded live on Facebook by Shore Craft Beer: