BOSTON -- Craft brewers and beer wholesalers are nudging lawmakers to sign off an a deal to resolve a decade-long dispute over distribution rights, warning that a delay will worsen the microbrew industry’s economic situation.
Last month, the sides reached an agreement to give small brewers more flexibility and backed a legislative proposal to establish what they say is a fairer process of resolving disputes.
The Senate approved the deal 40-0 two weeks ago, but the House of Representatives hasn't taken it up yet.
Sam Hendler, president of the Massachusetts Brewers Guild and a lead negotiator on the deal, said he remains hopeful that the House will approve the settlement and send it to Gov. Charlie Baker for consideration.
"We’re on the one yard line," he said. "We’re really hoping they can figure out a way to get this done for us as soon as possible to provide some flexibility and relief for brewers."
Microbrewers are struggling amid the economic fallout from the coronavirus, he said, and some won't survive if they have to wait much longer.
Hendler, a co-founder of Jack’s Abby and Springdale Beer Company in Framingham, said he doesn’t think the settlement has hit any last-minute snags.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, has encouraged the sides to settle the dispute, and there doesn’t appear to be any vocal opposition.
"Honestly, I think it’s just a matter of putting it up for a vote," he said. "We understand the that lawmakers have a lot on their plate right now."
Massachusetts is the birthplace of the craft-beer revolution and now boasts more than 200 microbreweries, including local companies like Ipswich Ale, Riverwalk Brewing in Newburyport and Notch Brewing in Salem.
But craft beer purveyors have fought for years for independence from strict provisions of a nearly 50-year-old law binding them to distribution agreements.
Under the state’s three-tier alcohol distribution system, beer funnels from supplier through wholesaler to the shelves of package stores. Brewers are locked into franchise agreements with wholesales after six months of doing business. Those who want to sever a relationship must appeal to the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission and show "good cause."
The state doesn’t require brewers to use a wholesaler, but many choose to do so, given the challenges of breaking into an already crowded beer market.
Under the new deal, breweries that produce fewer than 250,000 barrels of beer in a year would be allowed to terminate their wholesaler contracts by giving 30 days’ notice and paying “fair market value” for their brand rights. Brewers would have to buy back the wholesaler's inventory and promotional materials, among other requirements.
Hendler said while some craft brewers are surviving the pandemic with retail sales, others that operate taprooms shutdown by the state of emergency are struggling.
"That really goes to the heart of the issue that the settlement seeks to resolve," he said. "Brewers need flexibility to survive this unprecedented challenge."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com