A New Brew for New Jersey: Overhauling Liquor License Laws
New Jersey is witnessing a historic transformation in its liquor license laws, marking one of the most significant changes in over 75 years. Governor Phil Murphy signed a groundbreaking law on January 16, ushering in reforms that address the concerns of the state’s burgeoning craft brewing and distilling industry. This legislation, unanimously supported in both chambers of the State Legislature on January 8, incorporates key recommendations from Murphy’s conditional veto issued in late November 2023.
Key Changes for Alcohol Manufacturers Enacted
- Breweries, wineries, and distilleries can now host unlimited onsite events and private parties, with a limit of 25 special events offsite.
- These establishments are permitted to sell food, including chips, nuts, and other packaged snacks, and collaborate with external vendors such as food trucks and restaurants.
- The requirement for breweries to provide patrons with a facility tour before alcohol consumption has been eliminated.
Additionally, the law activates pocket licenses—inactive liquor licenses unused by a restaurant or bar for at least eight years. Dormant licenses will expire after two years, allowing municipalities to auction them or extend them for another year. Towns can transfer one dormant license annually and two every five years to a neighboring municipality in need.
The changes, as per the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, are expected to reintroduce up to 1,356 licenses into the market, marking a roughly 15% increase over the current 8,905 active retail consumption licenses.
Governor Murphy, who has championed an overhaul of the state’s liquor license laws over the past year, expressed his satisfaction with the new legislation. He stated, “For the first time in nearly a century, New Jersey has shown the fortitude to tackle an age-old problem that has stifled economic growth and hampered the dreams of countless small business owners.” The governor emphasized that the collaboration with the Legislature sets new ground rules to support breweries, distilleries, and smaller establishments, fostering transformation in New Jersey’s manufacturing sector.
Since 1947, New Jersey has restricted liquor licenses based on population, making them highly coveted and priced as high as $1 million in the private market. While Governor Murphy initially proposed a more extensive revamp last winter, including addressing pocket licenses and creating new classes of licenses for restaurants at shopping malls, the Legislature opted for a compromise. The recent changes focus on repealing limitations on special events at breweries and facilitating collaborations for food services.
State legislators and sponsors believe that these changes will empower craft alcohol manufacturers, revitalize Main Street business districts, and open opportunities for new development in communities. With a commitment to embracing innovation and local pride, the approval of this legislation is anticipated to propel New Jersey’s craft beer industry toward a positive trajectory in the coming years.
THE MANUFACTURING RESOURCE
As alcohol manufacturers celebrate this whirlwind legislative change, it’s important to know they can still count on their local MEPs. The NJMEP team brings decades-worth of experience to the regulatory landscape in New Jersey, and our no-cost assessment may be just what your manufacturing business needs to uncover hidden value within your facility. In the meantime, it’s important to keep abreast of any updates and monitor the impact this new legislation will have on your business, your operations, and your customers.