Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Business "Unfriendly" State?:


At the Cambridge House Brew Pub in Granby, you can order up a sampler of their finest beers, including the award-winning Copper Hill Kolsch, shown here in the foreground.
(JOHN WOIKE)

Feb. 8, 2007

Copyright 2007, Hartford Courant

Brew-Haha

February 14, 2007
By JANICE PODSADA, Courant Staff Writer

GRANBY -- Born and bred in Connecticut, Steve Boucino is about ready to make a mad dash for the border. Massachusetts is just four miles away, and under their laws, they're willing to give a man like Boucino a fresh start.

Desperado? Bad hombre? Varmint?

No - just a Connecticut business owner who wants to open a microbrewery and add a dozen jobs to the state's economy.

Boucino and Scott Scanlon, co-owners of The Cambridge House Brew Pub in Granby, would like to open a $2 million microbrewery near their 2-year-old establishment, which includes a restaurant.

"We're Connecticut natives. We want to brand ourselves here," Boucino said. Under a brew pub permit, their beer can only be sold on the premises.

Trouble is, state law prohibits the owner of a brew pub from operating a microbrewery.

"You can't be the holder of two permits," Boucino said. "I'd have to give up my successful business, the brew pub - the one that generates the cash - to open the brewery here."

Boucino, 40, and Scanlon, 43, hope to make, bottle and sell their beer for retail distribution. When they consulted officials with the state's Liquor Control Division, they were told they couldn't obtain a microbrewery permit.

The standoff comes exactly at a time when the state is trying to nurture the sort of vibrancy that comes from homegrown - or home-brewed - enterprise, not to mention the economic benefits.

In Connecticut, alcohol distribution laws were put on the books in the 1930s alongside state laws that made it a crime for a man with epilepsy to marry a woman younger than 45, or for anyone, married or single, to use contraceptives.

"The rationale behind the `separation of permits' issue goes all the way back to Prohibition and the so-called `three-tier system' that was created when Prohibition came to an end," Jerry Farrell Jr., the state's consumer protection commissioner, wrote in an e-mail.

"The three-tier system largely prevents common ownership between the three tiers of alcohol: the manufacturer, the distributor, and the retailer," Farrell wrote.

Although small business is an important driver in the state's economy, the laws concerning alcohol distribution have been in place for "a long, long time," said Peter Gioia, an economist for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, and as a result, "it's almost a Herculean struggle to take on those laws."

In Massachusetts, however, your micro-dreams can come true, Boucino said. There, brew pubs are allowed to bottle and distribute beer.

"Most successful brewers," he said, "have both brew pubs as well as distributing breweries, like Dogfish Head Beer," a Delaware brewer.

A brew pub is a great way to test the waters, so to speak. Cambridge House currently has six beers on tap, but the brew pub has experimented with more than 25 varieties since it opened in 2005. The ability to ask your customers to rate your latest batch of brew is almost as good as having a Betty Crocker test kitchen in your backyard.

From the bar, customers can glimpse the tiny brewery through a row of windows.

On a recent afternoon, brew master Dave Weikel, 31, was checking the mash, a mixture of barley and water, as it cooked inside an 8-foot tall, big-bellied copper kettle called a mash tun. As the mash heated, an aroma not unlike sour oatmeal filled the humid 30-foot-by-12-foot brewery. Steam frosted the windows. Weikel brews about 20 barrels of beer - 620 gallons - each week.

Two of the brew pub's beers have won gold and silver medals at the national Great American Beer Festival, an annual beer-making competition. It wasn't long before customers wanted to know when they could buy a six-pack at the store. The logical next step was to open a microbrewery, Boucino said.

"When brew pub owners realize that people love their beer, they will try to do some sales that can be consumed off premises," said Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, an industry group based in Boulder, Colo.

Last year, on a national scale, brew pubs, microbreweries and regional breweries rang up $4 billion in retail sales, Gatza said.

Boucino isn't the only Connecticut brew pub owner who has wanted to open a microbrewery in recent years.

"We'd love to take our beer and manufacture and sell it ... but there's a law against it," said Jay DuMond, co-owner of City Steam Brewery Café, a Hartford brew pub.

The laws determining who may or may not hold a permit to brew vary from state to state, Gatza said. Therefore, it's up to the brewers of the state to organize and make their plight known to lawmakers, Gatza said. "If a brewer isn't making their opinion known to lawmakers, then someone else is making policy."

Boucino is one of those people that state development officials are always talking about keeping here. A Connecticut native, Boucino went off to college in New Hampshire and came back home to work for The Hartford Financial Services Group. Five years ago, when Boucino and Scanlongot the itch to start a brew pub, they mapped out their business plan on a cocktail napkin at the Cracker Barrel Pub in the Tariffville section of Simsbury. With a combination of personal savings and a Small Business Administration loan, they bought an eyesore of a building on Salmon Brook Street in Granby for $125,000 that had been vacant for years.

Working weeknights after work and weekends, it took two years of sweat equity to remodel the dilapidated building. When a contractor's estimate to construct the kitchen came in at $89,000, the two partners bought the necessary equipment on eBay for $8,900 and built it themselves.

"If I wasn't at Home Depot on a Monday night, they'd send us a get-well card," Boucino joked.

In 2006, Cambridge House had $1.5 million in net sales, Boucino said. After just 23 months in business, the brew pub maintains a positive cash flow, producing about 1,000 barrels of beer a year and serving a full lunch and dinner menu.

Weikel, the brew pub's full-time brew master, said he knows plenty of people who'd like one of the dozen jobs that Boucino says he and his partner would create if they were to open a microbrewery in Connecticut.

"I'd like to keep my business here, but the state won't let me," Boucino said. And Massachusetts is just up the road, five minutes away.

Contact Janice Podsada at jpodsada@courant.com.

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World Organized Crime and Citizen Abuse Hub: CONNECTICUT?



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