Craft beer and spirits producers appeared before a state House committee in support of a bill that would allow a small business to hold a brewery license and a limited distillery license for the same location.
The bill recently introduced by Republican Rep. Jonathan Fritz of Wayne County is awaiting action in the House Liquor Control Committee. Lawmakers return to Harrisburg next week.
Fritz couched the bill as part of a broader effort to improve the business climate in the state. He said “other states have been eating our lunch.”
The success of the Pocono Beverage Trail was part of testimony at a legislative hearing Wednesday in Hawley, Wayne County.
The beverage trail — the newest major attraction in mountains made famous by honeymooning and water parks — is off to a strong start in its first month of operation, with 1,000 downloads of a mobile passport that lets users earn points for sipping drinks at craft breweries, wineries and distillers.
“The beverage trail is huge,” said Becky Ryman, president and founder of Wallenpaupack Brewing Co. in Wayne County.
But, she added, the ability to add other product lines that are still in the alcohol space would be tremendous.
Officials from the Liquor Control Board testified to the House Republican Policy Committee that they could neither endorse nor oppose the bill.
They said there are solid reasons for preventing the use of two licenses at the same location. At the same time, LCB Director of Regulatory Affairs Tisha Albert said, provisions in the law already allow for dual licensing in certain situations.
The Pocono Beverage Trail has 33 beverage-focused operations on its list and more are being added each week, testified Chris Barrett, president of the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau.
More than a year of work went into creating the trail and more than $500,000 has been spent advertising it, Barrett said.
Destinations on the trail include Downriver Brewing Co. in Stroudsburg, Mountain View Vineyard and Brewery in Hamilton Township, Monroe County, and the Insurrection Distillery in Lehighton.
Barrett said the Poconos have a long record of adapting to tourist tastes. The 2005 opening of Great Wolf Lodge water park in Monroe County, he said, was a game changer and was followed by the $600 million Kalahari Resorts facility.
A strong craft beverage attraction in the region, he said, will help meet the appetite of modern tourists for more experiences and many opportunities to do different things.
Five-year-old Wallenpaupack Brewing recently won World’s Best Cream Ale recognition at the World Beer Awards, Ryman said.
She testified how people with grown children said the younger generation lost interest in Lake Wallenpaupack and the Poconos but rediscovered it when they heard about the new offerings.
“I’ve had many parents tell me all they had to say was ‘brewery’ and their adult children were vested in returning to the lake for a visit,” she said.
Nonetheless, Ryman said, the craft beer industry is focused on what is new and next, and in Pennsylvania, the industry has outgrown state regulations.
Small versus big
Testifiers said craft brewing and small-scale distilling use much of the same equipment.
Fritz, the bill’s prime sponsor, said small businesses in other states including New York already give legal approval to do both activities in the same location.
Fred Maier, co-founder of Susquehanna Brewing of Luzerne County and president of the Brewers of Pennsylvania trade group, said 85% of the nation’s beer is produced and sold by three multinational companies.
Hence, he said, craft brewers do not view themselves as competing against each other. Rather, he said, it’s “us against the big guys.”
Getting permission to do small distilling on-site would let the small brewers grow, he said.
Source: Berkshire mont
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