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Baltimore Business JournalState, local officials relax alcohol restrictions to help bars, breweries

For now, grabbing a drink at the bar or brewery is out of the question in Maryland due to restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But the crisis has opened a new avenue for getting your beer, wine and liquor: take-out and delivery. Across the city and state, restaurants, bars, breweries, wineries and distilleries are offering up crowlers, kegs, bottled cocktails and more to go. In some cases, they'll even bring the goods to your front door.

State and local officials have loosened restrictions on alcohol sales in an effort to give Maryland's craft producers a chance to make some money while their tap and tasting rooms are closed.

As part of an executive order restricting public gatherings and shutting down bars and dining rooms, Gov. Larry Hogan opened the door to take-out and delivery sales for businesses that hold a state or local license to manufacture or sell alcoholic beverages. Comptroller Peter Franchot followed up on Wednesday with an announcement that his office would temporarily stop enforcing limits on beer and spirit sales.

Normally, state law restricts breweries with a Class 5 license to selling one case of beer per customer for take-out and off-premise consumption. Class 1 distillers can only sell up to 2.25 liters of liquor, or about three regular-sized bottles, to each guest.

But in the wake of "severe financial losses that are being incurred by our local, independent businesses that can no longer serve customers on their premises" due to the COVID-19 outbreak, it made sense to lift the requirements for now, Franchot said in a statement.

"Like restaurants, our state’s flourishing breweries and distilleries greatly depend on customers visiting their taprooms and tasting rooms to make ends meet," the comptroller, who has been a critic of restrictions on craft alcohol sales even under normal circumstances, said. "It's my hope, and that of my team, that this will provide at least a small measure of relief and opportunity for local businesses that have done so much to create jobs, investment and revitalization in communities across Maryland. If these manufacturers are forced to close as a result of the pandemic’s impact, the economic effect — in terms of lost jobs, lost revenue and lost community investment — would be devastating."

Take-out and delivery sales are in keeping with "the theme of public safety" and social distancing to prevent the virus' spread, said Kevin Atticks, the executive director of the Brewers Association of Maryland, Maryland Wineries Association and Maryland Distillers Guild.

"If we're trying to get people to stay home and we don't necessarily want to limit small businesses, which has been kind of a guiding goal from what I'm hearing, then let's let those businesses come and deliver to a customer," he said.

Atticks said he has heard from many local breweries, wineries and distilleries who have had to lay off a "significant percentages of their staff" in recent days.

"This is an incredibly difficult time for our members," he said. Allowing for delivery and curbside pickups could help some to rehire sales staff and reassign them to delivery jobs.

At Nepenthe Brewing Co. in Hampden, loosened restrictions on taproom sales have helped to bring in some much-needed business, co-owner Brian Arnold said.

The brewery does not have a canning or bottling line, and typically relies on taproom sales as well as sales to local bars and restaurants for a good chunk of revenue. Since the limits on off-premise sales were lifted, Nepenthe has been able to sell two kegs, Arnold said.

Still, the taproom's closure has taken a sharp toll on business. "With carryout we're not even approaching the normal volume that we normally do," he said.

Nepenthe, which began as a home-brewing shop, is also selling bottled cocktails using the bottles and caps in its inventory. On social media, the brewery offered to show local bars and restaurants how to bottle their own libations, and Arnold said he and co-owner Jill Antos have fielded requests from 10 restaurants so far.

"We're very conscious of the fact that everybody is scrambling right now to find out what they can do to maintain some revenue, some income," Arnold said.

The brewery is looking at starting delivery next week. But first, he said, they're taking the time to think through measures to protect staff and keep the operation running smoothly.

Hogan's order left local jurisdictions in charge of giving the final OK to bars, breweries, distilleries and other liquor license holders looking to offer delivery and take-out.

Baltimore's liquor board posted a guide to its website Wednesday confirming that establishments with Class A, B, D and BD7 licenses, as well as wineries and distilleries, can offer off-premise sales.

In Baltimore County, the liquor board is allowing Class A, B and D license-holders to deliver alcohol, after earning board approval. Businesses can request approval by sending an email to liquorboard@baltimorecountymd.gov. Establishments that have been punished for serving minors in the past three years won't be considered, according to the board's website.

The Anne Arundel County liquor board is also asking license-holders that want to deliver or sell off-premises to seek approval by emailing LQHAGN00@aacounty.org.

Howard County's liquor board, meanwhile, was set to meet Friday afternoon to discuss whether they would allow delivery and carry-out services.

https://www.bizjournals.com/baltimore/news/2020/03/20/state-local-officials-relax-alcohol-restrictions.html


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