Drink menu changes at local breweries prompted by liquor license changes

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Visitors to area breweries and cider companies might see different drink options, the result of changing liquor license laws.

New England Cider Company in Wallingford reopened to the public last month. In addition to the cider they’ve manufactured since 2012, the company is able to sell other Connecticut-made alcohol such as wine and beer.

Owner Miguel Galarraga said it’s a change allowed by his new license. He’s partnered with Wallingford-based Paradise Hills Vineyard and Gouveia Vineyards to give his customers more drink options.

“It’s going to help us because we just reopened to the public again,” Galarraga said. “We can offer people more variety.”

Customers of Witchdoctor Brewing Company in Southington though have seen their drink options limited. Owner Josh Norris said his previous brew pub license that allowed him to sell both his own beer and other alcohol isn’t offered by the state anymore.

He’s now only able to offer his own products, beer and hard seltzer. Norris had been offering California wines along with many other drinks made outside the state.

“We’re going to lose everything because we didn’t sell anything that was local except the cider,” he said.

Changes to liquor licenses

Drink option changes are a result of a 2019 law that reorganized the state’s liquor licenses. Mike D’Agostino, a Democratic state representative for Hamden, said the goal was to streamline and consolidate a host of license types.

“We’re in the process of just revamping and modernizing our liquor laws top to bottom,” he said. “At that time we realized that we had more than two dozen different licenses with different exemptions. It was a real regulatory mess and nightmare.”

D’Agostino also heard concerns from restaurant and bar owners that brew pubs were able to sell all types of alcohol, essentially operating as a bar without going through the more expensive process of getting a bar license.

“We found that was happening in some respects,” D’Agostino said.

After taking with the CT Brewers Guild and the Connecticut Restaurant Association, D’Agostino said legislators were able to reach a compromise that balanced the interests of the different groups.

A craft café license was created that allows a brewery or cidery to sell its own products as well as any made in the state.

If an establishment wants to sell all types and makes of alcohol, it can get a bar or restaurant license.

Along with the license changes, the state made it easier for breweries to sell their products, a request of the Brewers Guild.

“Just with their existing manufacturer’s license, they can do more with direct marketing and sales,” D’Agostino said. “That’s really what they wanted.”

Galarraga spoke at the legislature in 2019 in support of liquor law changes. The new laws put in writing that New England Cider Company could serve glasses to its customers, which wasn’t clear before.

“It did help us,” he said.

Which license to choose?

The 2019 law went into effect last year but implementation was further delayed by the pandemic. Gov. Ned Lamont allowed some licenses to be extended.

When his old license was up for renewal, Galarraga applied for a craft café permit in October. He received his provisional license but still hasn’t gotten his permanent one.

“I think they’re just overwhelmed,” Galarraga said.

Norris’ previous license for a brew pub is also no longer offered. He’s applying for a craft café license.

Norris had considered a café license, which would have allowed him to sell his own alcohol as well as any other types. Because he is a manufacturer, Norris said, he’s not eligible for a café license.

He’s hoping the legislature revisits the liquor laws, but D’Agostino said he hasn’t heard complaints about the new system.

jbuchanan@record-journal.com203-317-2230Twitter: @JBuchananRJ

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