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Massachusetts Lawmakers Want To Crack Down on Beer Gardens

There is a saying that “nothing good lasts forever.”  That is clearly true when it comes to the law and politics.  Boston’s beloved beer gardens are in jeopardy thanks to a bill introduced by Massachusetts lawmakers in 2019. The bill, An Act Relative to One Day Alcoholic Beverage Licenses, would curtail (and perhaps derail) the ability of many breweries to operate beer gardens in the state.

“Pop-up beer gardens have been flourishing in Boston,” noted American Craft Beer earlier this year. “But now the restaurant lobby is working with politicians to put the squeeze on them.  In fact, the licensing bill was written by Bob Luz, the president and CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association.

The restaurant association is particularly opposed to the comparatively low cost of beer garden licenses—which run under $100 per day—and by the ease with which breweries currently may skirt a frivolous cap on the number of such licenses that can be issued to a business: “[B]reweries and others can skirt that provision by simply having different employees apply for the permits,” Boston.com reported this week.

Boston magazine feature this spring lamented the fact that restaurants are “waging war” on beer gardens in the state and seeking “to regulate [them] into oblivion.”

“For the past year, Boston’s restaurateurs have been seething with envy as beer-garden mania has rapidly taken hold, and they’re now preparing to wage war,” the magazine reports. “At the State House, the restaurant industry is backing a proposed limit on one-day licenses for outdoor drinking to 14 a year per company, which would close a loophole that allows permitted beer-garden operators to stay open all summer long.”

The draw of a beer garden is obvious. Drinking outside is the best thing about both drinking and being outdoors. Beer gardens are fun. A typical pop-up beer garden might run several nights each week, and feature games, music, food trucks, and—of course—beer. They’re a great use of underutilized space. Beer gardens typically pop up in a vacant lot or a strip of public park. Many are family friendly. Kids and pets are often welcome. Others have embraced high culture. Tree House Brewing, the top-rated brewery in Massachusetts, is featuring musicians from the famed Berklee College of Music at its beer garden.

But the restaurant association says restaurateurs spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for alcohol licenses, and that beer gardens—what with their cheap licenses and low overhead—enjoy an unfair competitive advantage.

State Sen. Nick Collins, who co-sponsored the bill to kill beer gardens, says he introduced it to “jump-start a conversation about [beer gardens’] long term sustainability.”

I’d hope Sen. Collins, a lawmaker, would know the difference between legislation and conversation. I encourage Sen. Collins and his co-sponsor, State Sen. Ed Kennedy, to “jump-start a conversation” with one another about what appears to be the only real obstacle to the “long term sustainability” of beer gardens in Massachusetts: lawmakers.

If there are problems with booze laws in Massachusetts, the state has only its lawmakers (certainly not just Sen. Kennedy or Sen. Collins) to blame. If seasonal liquor licenses sound like a solution, it’s one that lawmakers have foreclosed upon. As reported this spring, “seasonal liquor licenses aren’t available in Boston, thanks to a decades-old state law that bans the city from issuing them.”

When innovators help expose the insanity and uselessness of a set of regulations with clever legal maneuvering, the solution isn’t to subject more businesses to the bad rules, but to scrap the regulations altogether.  Just like any person or business, the state should constantly be evaluating it’s purpose and making sure that the rules (laws) are achieving those purposes.  That is one of the many reasons to have good attorney’s on your team.

Good attorneys, like the ones we have at Goldfinch Winslow, can help to analyze a situation to determine if what you have in place will help you achieve it’s purpose.  Be it your Estate Plan, Business Plan, or simply a situation in your personal life having an attorney you trust on your team is a must.

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