WARREN COUNTY, NJ – Today is International Beer Day, a day for beer lovers everywhere to raise a toast to brewers and bartenders and rejoice in the greatness of beer. But amid the celebrating, in moderation, of course, Warren County is expressing support and concern for its microbreweries who are facing a change in state regulations that will drastically affect their business.
The New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control (NJABC) recently issued new special conditions on each limited brewery licensee in the state; craft breweries are now limited to hold 25 on-site activities open to the general public annually, as well as 52 private parties, and can also attend 12 off-premises events, such as town, charitable and holiday celebrations. This is a vast difference from the regular stream of events conducted by many microbreweries that attract patrons, both local residents and visitors.
The new regulations prompted the Warren County Board of County Commissioners last month to unanimously approve a resolution opposing the changes, stating that these new conditions will force these local, homegrown small businesses to rethink business models and closely consider which events they should participate in or host. This in turn will reduce their profits and their opportunities to engage in their communities, the commissioners stated.
The commissioners are urging state legislators and Governor Phil Murphy to rescind the special conditions on limited brewery licenses, and plan in the coming weeks to keep the issue in front of the NJ Legislature.
The changes are a “textbook example of bad government and awful regulation,” said Commissioner James R. Kern III, who drafted the resolution opposing the conditions. “It’s causing great concern in the microbrewery community.”
Warren County is home to four microbreweries – Czig Meister Brewing Company and Man Skirt Brewing in Hackettstown, Invertase Brewing Company in Phillipsburg, and Buttzville Brewing Company in Washington Borough, all of which are directly affected by the new regulations – plus a brewpub, Buck Hill Brewery and Restaurant in Blairstown. The county also is home to five wineries.
Kern, who has met with all four Warren County microbreweries in the past few weeks, said it was a “false narrative” that microbreweries and restaurants are in an adversarial relationship that lead to the tightening of regulations on how breweries operate.
“They work so well together here,” Kern said, noting that brewery patrons are ordering food delivered from local restaurants, and restaurants are serving the local brews.
“They are part of the community, and they’re helping the restaurants,” Commissioner Lori Ciesla said. “But the state’s liquor license laws are cumbersome and antiquated.”
“Our breweries should not be punished for the state’s antiquated and expensive licensing system. The state needs to roll back these limitations and then revise our liquor laws to be business friendly for all,” Ciesla said.
Commission Director Jason J. Sarnoski said that the Murphy administration pushed hard for breweries to help promote vaccines during the COVID pandemic with the “shot and a beer” program – a free beer was offered with proof of vaccination – “and now he needs to step up to the plate for them.”
To learn more about Warren County’s microbreweries, see the Wineries and Breweries page on the county’s tourism website at explorewarren.org/categories/wineries.
International Beer Day, first celebrated in 2008, takes place annually on the first Friday in August, which was chosen for its summer weather.