Sightlines — Rhode Island Eases Restrictions Limiting Brewery-Direct Sales

Austin Ray

THE GIST
A new law in Rhode Island took effect Friday, enabling the state’s breweries to sell up to 288 ounces of beer direct to customers for both on- and off-premise consumption. Prior to Friday, Rhode Island breweries were limited to selling 72 ounces of beer to an individual customer.

WHY IT MATTERS
Rhode Island is hardly the only state in the country with a cap preventing breweries from selling the amount of beer they’d like to sell directly to customers. But for a moment, consider Rhode Island’s dubious distinction of having the most stringent cap in New England. That would be the same New England that has emerged as one of the preeminent beer regions in the country, catapulted by the highly sought-after cloudy IPAs coming out of Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts.

It’s easy to write that all off as a state-by-state issue, until you also consider that Rhode Islanders regularly make the short trip to Monson or Boston to visit Tree House or Trillium respectively. Hitting Vermont’s Hill Farmstead or The Alchemist from Providence is no big deal either. And in either Massachusetts or Vermont, drinkers are free to visit and buy as much beer as they want, direct from the source. (To be fair, there’s usually a limit, but it’s brewery-imposed.) This is where we get that whole “beer tourism” thing. But beer tourists, very obviously, are much less likely to bring their tourism dollars to where they can’t buy beer—or at least enough beer to justify a 1-5-hour drive.
 
Even in Rhode Island, though, the smallest state in beer-happy New England, this is still a controversial issue. Earlier this year, Proclamation Ale Co. of West Kingston grew into one of the state’s more vocal proponents for updating the laws (befitting their name). In so doing, an anonymous letter (apparently from a liquor retailer) appeared on their doorstep one day, decrying their efforts to bring about change. (They subsequently set that letter on fire and posted to Facebook.) If nothing else, let this serve as a reminder to those fighting overly burdensome legislation in more typically restrictive places like the South, that even up in the Northeast, and indeed everywhere, similar fights are taking place.
 
—Dave Eisenberg
 
READ MORE
A new law aims at making it easier for breweries to do business in Rhode Island [ABC]