Task Force to Study Maryland Alcohol Regulation: Round #1

The first meeting of the new State Alcohol Regulation Task Force (created by the passage of HB 1316) was held in the Economic Matters Committee Hearing Room on September 12, 2018. I realize it has taken me a week to weigh in. In part I wanted to digest what transpired, but I also wanted to conduct a little more research. This provided some clarity as well as a bit more confusion with regard to the direction this task force is headed. It also forced me to speculate about an underlying, hidden agenda.

I was relieved to see members of all three tiers represented on the task force. The standard protocols were followed beginning with an historical jaunt through Maryland’s 3 tier system, followed by a breakdown of exactly how alcohol is regulated and by whom. A brief comparison of Maryland’s regulatory system with other states was also done and this was when things began to get interesting. Challenges to the methodology of the comparison came quickly from one panelist- David Jernigan PhD.
A little background research on Jernigan is quite revealing.

Jernigan is best known for his action-research approach to the issue of alcohol advertising, marketing, and promotion and its influence on young people…He testifies regularly at city, state, and national levels around alcohol availability and taxation. He trains advocates around the world using the best evidence.1

A quick glance at his list of publications and one quickly fathoms the purpose of his research- restructuring alcohol regulation with a goal to limit access through complete state control and high taxation. Yes this is called Temperance. He veers away from Prohibition…but not really. Jernigan was the architect of the increased alcohol tax in Maryland a few years back, and he is back now trying to go further. His acolytes are widespread including Raimee Eck, current President of the Maryland Public Health Association, who also testified and even chose to use the word ‘temperance’ in her slide presentation.

Eck also wrote an Op-Ed in the Baltimore Sun November 29, 2017 challenging Reform on Tap, while completely misconstruing its point…”Comptroller Franchot’s focus on increasing alcohol production, sales, and consumption without a review of the health consequences and costs is misguided.” Clearly she did not grasp the point of HB 518- which was not to increase consumption but replace the purchase of out of state beer with Maryland manufactured beer.

Some important points:

1) Is alcohol consumption increasing or decreasing? It depends upon who you ask. Jernigan says it’s up, while most other data sets suggest it’s down.

2) Jernigan chose not to weigh vital statistics from Maryland, but instead chose CDC statistics which enabled him to count far more deaths as ‘attributable’ to alcohol. Jernigan was challenged by Webster Ye of Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Ye noted that alcohol related deaths had not increased, but held steady. Ye also noted the decrease in deaths overall, whereas Jernigan said death rates were on the rise in Maryland.

3) Senator Conway also weighed in with questions on causation, particularly when Jernigan stated that the vast number of homicides in Baltimore City were attributable to alcohol. Jernigan stated it was difficult to disentangle gangs and illicit drugs from alcohol in homicides rates. Jernigan stated that 80% of homicides are committed while drinking. Conway recognized along with most of us that homicides have other causal factors that could be addressed- entirely unrelated to alcohol. It begins with job training and educational opportunities in economically disadvantaged areas to provide options other than gangs and criminal activity for people to not only survive but build a future. That discussion is for another day however. People commit crimes for a host of reasons and ignoring those other causal factors in deference to alcohol will not solve those problems.

4) Jernigan and Eck could not truly differentiate craft beer from other beer, spirits or wine. When he was asked by Shelby Watson of Robin Hill Winery what was the alcohol 12-20 years olds were drinking and where they were getting it, Jernigan answered that ‘cheap’ was what they targeted in straw purchases, while the younger ones were stealing only the ‘good stuff’ from home. Wine however wasn’t really a factor in this age group. ‘Cheap’ and craft beer are not synonymous and what Jernigan did not chose to point out was that the cheap beer is in large majority supplied by the monopolistic mega brewers- you know who I am referring to. They also made the obvious mistake of stating that craft beers are 7-9%, and consumers don’t seem to comprehend they are drinking higher ABV. All of this completely disregards a large segment of the craft beer market that produces session beers, and the exceptional labelling (as required by the TTB) of the ABV, coupled with the work craft breweries in educating the populace on the ABV. The paucity of authentic craft beer specific statistics and documentation was deeply concerning.

5) Jernigan also stated that the recent proliferation in retail outlets has been ignored and is responsible for a 4% increase in violent crime. President Mullikin asked if he had the statistical carve out for the breweries. He did not, and reverted to the stat that off-premise sales are responsible for twice the number of violent crimes as on-premise sales.

To quote Mark Twain, “Lies, damn lies and statistics…”

6) Jernigan’s testimony nearly word for word, could be taken from an article in The Lancet, titled “Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990-2016: a systematic analysis of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016”. This article
a. Lays alcohol at the feet the most of society’s ills;
b. Completely disregards any health benefits of alcohol as negated by the harm;
c. And adds the best method to eradicate it:

“The most effective and cost-effective means to reduce alcohol-related harms are to reduce affordability through taxation or price regulation, including setting a minimum price per unit (MUP), closely followed by marketing regulation, and restrictions on the physical availability of alcohol.”

As a point of note, I too believe we should work constructively to educate young and old alike on the dangers of binge drinking, drinking and driving, and health and societal related complications of alcohol. I am also neither an epidemiologist, nor a statistician. I do however recognize cherry picking data to persuade an audience.

Jernigan and Eck certainly had a rapt audience in Miller and Kramer who both seemed to have pre-planned some of their questions and commentary. Kramer’s reference to the Governing article he read was one that Jernigan himself was a contributor to. Miller was eager for “simple fixes at the regulatory level” to stop the alcohol related deaths, which alluded to higher alcohol taxes and state control of production, distribution, and sales. Miller also commented, almost verbatim to Jernigan that he was extremely concerned with the whittling away of the alcohol regulatory framework each legislative session.

dry

Folks, we have been down this road before. Nearly two centuries ago a Temperance movement began with a belief it would cure all of the ills of society. It took decades, but when it finally found support it quickly moved from Temperance to Prohibition. I don’t have to tell you how that turned out but I will remind you of a few key takeaways from the failed experiment. Prohibition did not solve society’s ills. Try as you might you cannot regulate morality. It has been tried- repeatedly and failed. You can legislate and make things illegal, but people will still act in the manner they choose. During Prohibition alcohol was still produced, distributed, and consumed- most of it at much greater potency than anything being consumed before the Volstead Act. The loss of state, local and federal revenues was catastrophic to the economies, coupled with incredible job loss. Closing the breweries, wineries, and distilleries put a fair percentage of people out of work but it also severely harmed the 200 affiliated industries that relied upon their business from glass manufacturers to painters, leaving many more without wages. This was supported in 1926 when the federal government completed its inquest into the causes of unemployment. It was directly attributable to Prohibition, not automation as the dry party proclaimed. If you think crime and unemployment are problematic now- enact Prohibition.

I am not suggesting this task force will currently push for Prohibition, but they are well on their way based upon week 1. For now I expect higher alcohol taxes and a move toward complete state control- only one of these will likely gain traction in the next few sessions. We will need to wait to see what happens next month.

Beer for thought…

 

Governing Article
http://www.governing.com/topics/health-human-services/gov-alcohol-abuse.html
Lancet Article
https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(18)31310-2.pdf
Task Force Testimony
http://mgahouse.maryland.gov/mga/play/5c144f0e-acc1-42f7-ba99-e13563125da4/?catalog/03e481c7-8a42-4438-a7da-93ff74bdaa4c

1. David H. Jernigan, PhD. Professor, Health Law, Policy & Management , “Biography”. accessed September 19, 2018 via Boston University School of Public Health https://www.bu.edu/sph/profile/david-jernigan/

Open Gate Brewery Opens

It has been a while folks, thanks for bearing with me! Last night after 8 straight hours of demolition work (yes swinging away with a sledge hammer) exhausted, thirsty, and owing our dear friend some beer for his assistance we trekked over to the new Guinness brewery. It happens to be 10 minutes from my house and on the way to the airport- to which my friend was headed.
I knew what to expect having seen the drawings, but conceptualizing it and seeing it in reality was something different. For anyone that has travelled to Dublin, Ireland to the original St. James Gate Brewery there was a certain level of expectation. The Open Gate Brewery can handle the comparison as there are similarities, particularly the grand scale and the grasp of the brewery’s long history. The Open Gate Brewery has a very ‘new world’ feel- as it should. It was crisp and modern yet gently cradled nuances of the old world Dublin original. It was a beautiful meld of both traditions on an expansive campus. In the upcoming months more will be completed to add to the experience- and that is exactly what it was.
As a band played on the terrace, I chose air conditioning. I was pleased to see the usual suspects on tap- Guinness Stout, Foreign Extra Stout, and the like. What I chose to partake of was the Crosslands Pale Ale made with local ingredients- specifically Dark Cloud Malthouse malt, and Black Locust hops. It was exactly what I hoped it would be- refreshing, delicious, and well- crafted. Although the restaurant was not yet open, small plates were offered at the bar, along with copious refills of much needed water. My only disappointment was in not being able to partake of any Golden Ale series (experimental beers) that had been available in the temporary taproom.

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I was also happy to see quite a few of my craft beer connoisseur friends- some now happily employed at Open Gate Brewery. Although I was a bit mind-muddled from the day, I was able to recognize a few things that I wanted to share with all of you. First and foremost I am very aware of the controversy surrounding the entry of the new Guinness Brewery into Maryland. I want to put that aside for now as all of you know I will NEVER stop fighting for our craft breweries here in Maryland and a proper change to the archaic laws that bind them. I want to offer another perspective today.
The Open Gate Brewery was extremely well run and organized. The staff was incredibly diligent, genuinely smiling and kind- despite the volume of folks near closing. Yes, I can absolutely see people flying into BWI airport to experience the Guinness Brewery without having to cross the pond- although if you get the chance to travel to Ireland always take it! I personally do not think this is a bad thing. Beer tourism absolutely brings people into your brewery- large or small. This country is filled with craft beer travelers and our fine Maryland breweries already consistently lure beercationers year after year. I believe this brewery will add to those numbers- not only at the Guinness Brewery- but at each and every Maryland Brewery. With the availability of beer bus tours one merely has to step off of the airplane, drop their luggage at the hotel, and hop on a bus to sample more than 80 delicious Maryland breweries. It is ideal really, and everyone wins.
The other observation that I feel VERY strongly about is this: Crosslands Pale Ale is really good for Maryland. It brings national attention to the quality of both the hops grown and the malt made here in the Free State. I think this is outstanding. I could not be more proud of our local farmers and maltsters, and excited at the doors this may open for them. Even folks that don’t regularly drink craft beer will get a chance to sample the quality of our local ingredients. Not only will this urge them on to sample more from our diverse breweries, it will inspire more investment in planting malting grains (that save the Chesapeake Bay) and expansive malting operations to supply our breweries.
Sure I could go on about jobs, and the boost to the economy at this point… but I know you already have that figured out. Whatever your feelings, I respect them. I wanted you to know I am rooting for our Maryland breweries, farmers, and maltsters-each and every one of them.
Sláinte!

Beers To Your Health

January 21, 2018

It has been quite the week for beer folks! While the federal government may be shut down, the state government is absolutely operational. As the 2018 legislative session has begun in Maryland things have most certainly been heating up, and the local breweries have seen standing room only crowds.

This week I had the opportunity to watch communities rise up and support the craft breweries in their neighborhoods. Perhaps not entirely their ‘local’ neighborhoods exactly, as some travelled from the farthest reaches of Maryland specifically to visit a favorite brewery. Others showed en mass to support a beloved brewery employee celebrating a birthday, while many celebrated new beer releases across the state. The outpouring of support for Maryland breweries was exceptional! It did not stop there however. On Wednesday evening, I had the good fortune of being present at Rockwell Brewery in Frederick. Paul Tinney and Matt Thrasher were also celebrating the release of their collaboration beer with Brian Voltaggio. The lovely wheat beer was created to compliment Family Meal (Voltaggio’s Diner) Chicken, and oh what a pairing it was. Clean, refreshing, perfectly hopped and just delectable.

Rockwell Brewery filled quickly in a very short span, not only to celebrate the beer (and chicken), but to witness Paul and Matt receive accolades from the crusader for Maryland beer reform, Comptroller Franchot. Earlier in the day, the Comptroller sat in for the “Uncapped” Podcast with Chris Sands and Liz Murphy, answering questions, and addressing not so subtle accusations thrown in his direction from well-placed editorials. The editorials have charged that breweries are being kept in check with oppressive regulations due to public health issues, and it is the legislature is acting responsibly. Franchot answered these allegations succinctly. He is the alcohol regulator in the state, and that is not lost on most of us. Franchot stated that he wasn’t advocating for an increase in the amount of alcohol people consume, but sought to increase the proportion of Maryland beers consumed in the state, reducing the out of state intake, thus leaving the consumption rates the same. A reasonable, logical person would understand that is responsible and not at all a public health concern.

arrow beer health

In reality the health benefits of moderate beer consumption have become widely known via scientific studies that have been conducted in recent decades. This is something the medical community knew even before Prohibition. Studies have demonstrated that one or two beers a day offers tremendous health benefits:

  1.  Mitigates symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in women
  2.  Helps prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes
  3.  Increases bone density to stave off osteoporosis
  4.  Slows the decrease of good cholesterol , while lowering bad cholesterol
  5.  Prevents heart disease – moderate beer drinkers have a 42% lower risk of getting heart disease
  6.  Flavonoids found in hops help prevent the onset of Dementia, Parkinsons, and Alzheimer’s disease
  7.  Those same flavonoids (Xanthohumol) are also key preventing Prostate and other cancers
  8.  Lowers Blood Pressure
  9.  Thins the blood, acting to prevent the formation of clots
  10.  Reduces risk of kidney stones
  11.  Reduces risk of gallstones
  12.  Stouts have strong antioxidants that act to prevent the formation of cataracts
  13.  Hops contain Humulone which cures the common cold

 
Truthfully the list is far longer, but this will suffice to demonstrate that if we want to have a real discussion about public health issues surrounding beer, this might be the place to begin. The editorials are false flags and should be dismissed without merit. Please go forth and research, find the answers for yourself on health benefits of beer,  Maryland’s record of alcohol enforcement, and the legislature’s voting record and list of campaign donors. That is the best way forward to determine where you stand on Maryland’s craft brewing industry, and whether to throw your support behind them. I have done the research and know where I stand- it is overwhelmingly in the corner of Maryland craft breweries.

Sláinte

#SaveMDBeer
#BreweriesSaveMainStreet
#BreweriesSavetheChespaeakeBay

Beer Unites (Except in the Maryland State House)

To borrow from my friends at Union Craft Brewing, beer unites us all. Take for example the United States Congress. It could not be more divisive, or partisan. It is akin to warring factions from distant galaxies fighting for control of the Universe at all costs. Despite these disparate agendas, they have still found a way to come together over beer. The Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act, better known as CBMTRA has united both factions of our bicameral congress. This legislation, well covered by Tom Cizauskas at Yours For Good Fermentables, is a once in a generation legislative reform act for the United States craft brewing industry that also provides benefit to wineries and distilleries.
Here are the nuts of bolts of what it does for breweries:

  • Reduces excise taxes from $7 per barrel to $3.50 per barrel for domestic breweries producing less than 60,000 BBLs per annum.
  • Reduces excise taxes from $18 per barrel to $16 per barrel for domestic breweries producing 60,000 to 2 million BBLs per annum.
  • It simplifies beer formulation and label approval by expanding the list of ‘common beer ingredients’ (like fruit).
  • It encourages collaborations by removing regulatory hurdles like enabling tax free transfers, removing restrictions on both inventory and expansion for packaging and storage.
  • It levels the playing field between domestic and international producers.
  • It expands TTB program integrity to crack down on those circumventing the rules.

With 54 Senate co-sponsors, and 299 House co-sponsors this Bill had incredible bipartisan support, and was heavily promoted by both the Brewer’s Association of America, the National Beer Wholesalers Association, and the Beer Institute, among several other industry associations. Since the wording of the Bill was exactly the same in both houses of Congress when approved, there is little doubt it will make it through the conference committee and be signed into law in coming weeks. This will be a grand and much needed victory for craft beer manufacturers across the country. Apparently beer was the only thing capable of uniting this most combative 115th Congress.

Perhaps the political factions within the Annapolis State House should take note. If the federal government is willing to sit down and listen to the concerns of craft brewers, and their need for the modernization of existing, incredibly antiquated laws, why shouldn’t the elected representatives serving in Annapolis? Say what you will about swampy, pay to play Washington politics, but nothing holds a candle to Maryland particularly if the Reform on Tap Act of 2018 does not get a FAIR and IMPARTIAL hearing before the legislature this session. Politicians must pay at the polls in 2018 if they do not heed the demands of their constituents (as a whole); not just the select group lining their campaign coffers.

Make your voices heard! Call your representatives and tell them (as a voter) what you require of them. If you have questions ask your local craft brewer, the Brewer’s Association of Maryland, or the Comptroller. Sign the petition HERE to make the Reform on Tap Act of 2018 a crucial component of the 2018 legislative session in Annapolis. Always remember they serve at OUR pleasure.

#SaveMDBeer
#BreweriesSaveMainStreet

Craft Brewers of Maryland Welcome Guinness

October 20, 2017

The arrival of Guinness in Baltimore was met with mixed emotion, instead of the expected anticipation of a new brewery opening in the state. In large part this jubilance was muted due to the legislature in Annapolis cutting backroom deals at the behest of special interest groups while ignoring the welfare of the craft brewing industry in the state. This was carried out with absolutely no regard for the breweries and their role as a driving economic force in so many communities across Maryland. Despite the legal wrangling, the brewers of Maryland rolled out the welcome mat for the new Guinness Brewery in Relay on Friday for their (pre-opening) Industry Night. Union Craft, Denizens, Pub Dog, Monocacy, Jailbreak, Checkerspot, Key, Heavy Seas, and a host of others were represented. The event revealed a first look at the taproom and the sampling of what Hollie Stephenson (Head brewer) and Peter Wiens (Brewmaster) had in store for those experienced palates in attendance.

The evening was a success, and the brewers of Maryland demonstrated their generosity of spirit, and the brother (and sisterhood) that Maryland breweries are so well known for. The offerings ranged from expected staple beers Guinness Stout, and Guinness Blonde Lager, to the rare and small batch. These special delights included the dense, luscious Foreign Extra Stout on draft (apparently for the first time in the USA), and the small batch Golden Series #1. This blonde ale was exceptional, a favorite for most in attendance. It comprised a beautiful compilation of hops (Mosaic, Amarillo, and El Dorado) that complimented Guinness yeast as the ale was fermented at higher temperatures. This brought out an abundance of aromas and a distinct, yet not overwhelming note of peach that married the flavors beautifully. To the credit of Diageo, they have brought together a winning team in the brewery. Maryland is looking forward to what they have in store for future brews in their Golden Series, and beyond.

The taproom is clean, industrial, and spacious. The expected barrel tables accompanied stools for a brief respite while sampling. This however is merely the beginning. Guinness plans to finish off the taproom, and construct an expansive beer garden that can accommodate several food trucks. Additionally a small hop farm is planned for a sensory experience, along with a pub style restaurant on the third floor of the facility where beer and food pairings will take center stage. Of course much like the St James Gate Brewery in Dublin, tourists will be guided through the history of Guinness, and the brewing process with substantial displays, and a retail store from which to purchase remembrances. The 100 hectolitre brewery will be housed in a separate facility, to accommodate the needs of the anticipated 300,000 tourists per year. Coincidentally, Greg Norris of GEA Brewery Systems (formerly the owner of Clay Pipe Brewing in Westminster) happens to be responsible for supplying this brewing system to Guinness.

With a 10 hectolitre system (in addition to the 2 barrel test system) there is much room to experiment with new brews from a hazy New England IPA, to a Belgian, and a host of other brews. It also provides the perfect opportunity for collaboration brews. In just a few hours, collaborations between Guinness and a few different Maryland breweries were already lined up. There is quite a bit in store for beer aficionados in Maryland and beyond! Guinness will no doubt draw a large tourist population, but all of our breweries should benefit. Collaborations will bolster that. Beer tourism was already thriving in the Free State due to our incredible craft brewers, and the arrival of Guinness will foment that trend. All we need now is an adjustment to the legislation and Maryland will become the premier destination for breweries in the United States!

Sláinte!

“Women Brewing in Maryland”  Left to Right Julie Verratti of Denizens, Judy Neff of Checkerspot, Lynn Pronobis of Union Craft, Hollie Stephenson of Guinness. Photo by Author.