The next legislative session hasn’t started yet, but one local official is already brewing a proposal that could help bolster the Bay State’s craft beer industry.

State Sen. James Eldridge, D-Acton, plans on filing legislation next year at the State House, that if passed, would allow local beer makers to sell their products at Farmers Markets and agricultural events in Massachusetts.

“That’s my hope,” said Eldridge. “I plan to file the bill and hopefully we can get this passed.”

Eldridge said he has been in touch with members of the Massachusetts Craft Brewers Guild, as well as constituents, who have showed interest in his idea.

Similar legislation was filed in 2010 to allow local wineries to sell their product at farmers markets, and since Governor Deval Patrick signed off on the bill, Eldridge said wine sales have “sky rocketed.”

“It has supported a lot of local agriculture as well,” he said.

The sale of wine was allowed at markets and agricultural events for the first time in 2011.

Now, registered wineries can apply for the appropriate license from a local alcohol licensing authority and distribute their product at the events.

“It made the most sense to start out with [wine] to see if it worked, and once there was a track record to file the bill on craft beers,” said Eldridge. “For wineries, it has been a real win- win.”

Not only did allowing the sale of local wines help bring more people to farmers markets, it also put a boost in the Massachusetts economy.

A survey of local wineries conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources showed there was a 66 percent increase in overall wine sales in the state after the legislation was approved. Companies making the wine also said they planned on hiring more staff as a result of the law being passed.

“It has been a big success,” said Eldridge, adding he is hopeful the same could be done for the booming craft beer industry in Massachusetts.

Mimi Graney, executive director of Union Square Main Streets, which runs the Union Square Farmers Market in Somerville, said the introduction of wine has been successful, and she would support a similar proposal for craft beers “whole-heartedly.“

“It might expand business for the breweries,” said Graney. “Folks might be in a rut if every time they go to the liquor store they are always getting Corona, and this would allow them to try some local products they haven’t had before.”

She said there is already a “workable system” for how wineries are involved in the markets, so it would be “pretty easy to expand to breweries as well.”

Jeff Wharton, co-founder of Drink Craft Beer, a website that educates the public on the growing, local industry and connects consumers with craft beer products, said Eldridge’s proposal “just makes sense.”

“It’s the exact demographic—people who want to know the story about where their food comes from,” said Wharton. ”It would not just be going to a liquor store and picking up beer. You could go and interact with the company making this beer.”

Wharton said the idea would also allow local brewers to connect with Massachusetts farmers and keep the beer ingredients in the state.

“It would be a great opportunity because a lot of brewers are working with local ingredients and local farmers and this just furthers that relationship,” he said.

Wharton called farmers market customers “the perfect audience,” and said it could lead to more beer makers getting their product out to that audience.

“We have so many small local brewers popping up [in Massachusetts], it would be a great way to connect those local brewers to the people looking to learn about this [industry],” he said.

While details haven’t been ironed out, and there is still a ways to go before anything changes, if the success of wine sales at the markets is any indication, the proposed legislation could mean big things for brewers.

“If we have wine being sold there and we haven’t seen problems yet, I don’t see a plausible reason why you could ever argue against craft beer,” said Wharton.

 

How Wine Sales at Farmers Markets Helped the Industry in 2011, according to a report from the Department of Agricultural Resources:

  • 18 local wineries participated at 67 different agricultural events, including 63 farmers’ markets and four agricultural fairs and festivals.
  • Wineries reported an average 66 percent increase in overall sales due to sales from these markets.
  • According to the DAR survey, sales at farmers’ markets totaled 34,280 bottles of wine – with an approximate value of $514,200.
  • Fifty-three percent plan to hire more employees, totaling 15 full-time and six part-time positions.
  • Ninety-four percent of respondents reported increased recognition for their wine.
  • Eighty-two percent of respondents reported increased visitors at their winery with an average increase of 28 percent.
  • Thirty-five percent of respondents plan to expand production.
  • Twenty-nine percent of respondents plan to increase wine production by an average of 38 percent this coming year.