By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

An outrageous attack on small businesses

I’d feel better about the war against craft brewers being called off if State Treasurer Steve Grossman had had a few harsh words to say about his Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. Last week the ABCC proposed a rule that came out of nowhere, threatening the livelihoods of business owners and the jobs of their employees.

Though Grossman conceded the ABCC made a “mistake,” the commission apparently is still going to hold hearings concerning a rule that 50 percent of the ingredients used by craft brewers come from Massachusetts — a requirement that is literally impossible to meet.

Rather than hearings, what we need is a new ABCC. Or no ABCC. Take your pick.

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  1. L.K. Collins

    Given the nature of state government and the entrenched, parochial interests, neither a new ABCC or no ABCC are likely scenarios.

    One must ask how the voters of the Commonwealth allowed this board to be staffed with people of such short sight?

  2. Stephen Stein

    It’s great news that this thing was called off. I wonder what motivated it in the first place.

    I bet now that ABCC has been slapped, the next similar abuse will come from somewhere else. But moves like that have roots. Where were the roots of this case?

  3. James Harvey

    The fact that these breweries needed to be classified as “farmer brewers” in the first place is the embarrassment. They still need to grow a token amount of cereal grains or hops to retain their license. Never mind the ABCC, it’s time for some real reform at the legislative level. It’s high time to allow regular craft breweries and direct-to-consumer shipments of alcohol, as they do in most other states. Anything less is simply kowtowing to the interests of Big Alcohol.

  4. Mike Rice

    This proposed rule by the ABCC makes about as much sense as when the parole board voted to turn Cinelli loose.

  5. C.E. Stead

    @Steve – word on the street is that there was an effort to make these micro brewers pop for a more expensive type of license by wishing a new requirement on them that can’t be fulfilled.

    Not that a bureaucrat in MA would do such a thing, of course.

    What do you choose? Corrupt or stupid?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @C.E.: Frankly, it’s the only possible explanation I’ve heard that makes any sense.

  6. Al Fiantaca

    What’s the history of the farmer-brewer license in the first place. What about wineries? Is there a farmer-winery or vineyard-winery license by comparison? Why not alcoholic spirits maker license instead, and get out of the “grown by” component altogether, and make licenses dependent on capacity? These are off the top of my head questions without any in depth thought as to any ramifications. It seems that there is no rhyme or reason to these licenses.

  7. Stephen Stein

    @CE – thanks. So the impetus came from the state itself trying to “find” more revenue, not lobbyists for some particular business interest.

    The smallish craft brewing industry in Massachusetts is producing some very fine products and I guess the state wants to get more of a cut?

    This is what gives government a bad name, alright.

    • Dan Kennedy

      I’ve always had a favorable view of Steve Grossman. Since he became treasurer, the only things I’ve seen from his office are plans to install more lottery vending machines and now this. He is not off to a good start.

  8. C.E. Stead

    DK – I’m not certain to what extent Grossman was aware of the impact of the ABCC action. But I would suggest he look into their ways more fully, and get a handle on his empire – I’d hate to think the Lottery doesn’t get maximum oversight.

    AFAIK, this isn’t scrapped but ‘postponed’ – that is, they will look into the regulation/situation, but still plan to take some action to either help the hops growers or stiff the brewers. Or both. And it’s worth noting that THIS regulation came to light only because it touched upon beer. If it had been a new licensing/quota regulation for paper clip manufacturers, you’d never read about it.

    I don’t drink beer, but I DO try to look at regulations.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @C.E.: I know this has supposedly been postponed, but my assumption is that that’s merely ass-covering. Grossman would be crazy to let the ABCC get anywhere near this again.

  9. Martin Callaghan

    @C.E.: I think that Grossman’s experience as a small business owner led him to recognize fairly quickly that this was going to be a problem. Dan, I suppose he could have had some harsh words for the ABCC, but ultimately it’s his responsibility so he stepped up, admitted a mistake was made and corrected it. I do agree with you though that the ABCC won’t be getting anywhere near this again.

    Good points by J. Harvey and I think the Treasurer will be looking at legislative options also.

  10. Ben Starr

    First step in the reform of the alcohol business is to get rid of the codes that protect distributors. Remarkable protection of monopolies that date back to the end of Prohibition. That someone like Heineken can’t do business direct with Stop & Shop but has to pay a toll to the son of the son of the son of the guy who paid someone off to get a distributorship in 1932 is ridiculous. Nice additional cost passed to the consumer.

  11. Bob Gardner

    “a requirement that is literally impossible to meet.”

    Why is this requirement literally impossible?

  12. C.E. Stead

    @Bob – there are only enough hops in domestic production to meet about 50% of current demand. Since this is the end of August, there is not enough time in the growing season to plant and harvest more this year. And this year is when the regulation was to go into effect.

    Hence, impossible. Unless the ABCC had a plan to pick winner and losers? Anyone looked at policial contributions?

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