Opinion: H5190 – Farmer’s Market craft beer & wine sales

By | February 5, 2013

As the afterglow of the Rhode Island Brew Festival wears off, we turn our attention back to normal affairs of what we’re going to brew next and how to perfect our skills. However, it is worth taking a few moments to talk about some local legislation. H5190 is set for a public hearing before the House Corporations committee in just a few hours (Feb 5, 2013 @5PM). H5190 is a piece of legislation that would legalize the selling of beer and wine at farmers markets (with a special license) and set forth guidelines for a farmer-brewers license.

It is no secret that of the 5 breweries that have opened their doors in the last year and a half, the majority of them started off as homebrewing operations. It should also come as no surprise that most homebrewers also entertain the idea of ‘going pro’ and opening up their own brewery at least once if not every day. A bill such as H5190 would give small start up brewers the tools they need to get product exposure statewide, increase sales and fairly compete with other larger and more established brands.

The Craft Beer movement and the Localvorism movements are intrinsically linked by a few key factors such as quality of products, community support and an implicit rejection of overindustrialization. In short, People in both movements want quality goods produced with honesty by their neighbors. This bill supports that mantra and will provide the citizens of Rhode Island with more access to other options than previously before.

Proponents of the bill will point out that this bill bypasses the well established monolithic three tier system which was created after Prohibition ended. While the three tier system addresses a very practical problem (how to keep everyone supplied) it inherently favors the largest brewing companies. In the vast majority of liquor stores and bars a majority of the shelves stocked with beer are those brands from the 3 largest breweries. This allows independent Craft Beer producers to fight for the remaining 40%. H5190 would not impact the stocking of shelves and would only serve to level the playing field already controlled by large businesses. The selling of local beer and wine at farmer’s markets would allow the consumer to make the decision about which brands they want to support instead of allowing the three tier system dictate what they have access to.

A vote for H5190 would be a vote for small business, local consumers and quality products produced by our neighbors. I and other members of the Rhode Island Brewing Society support H5190 for the reasons stated above. I also recommend that you take the time to familiarize yourself with the proposed legislation and write to your elected representatives to let them know your opinion. You can view the full text here.