Making the case for alcohol law reform in the Ocean State

Last month, a bill proposing a slight increase to the amount of cans of beer that can be sold to-go from taprooms was passed by the Rhode Island Senate and now sits in the House.

This legislation is certainly headed in the right direction (it’s at least some increase) but is it really enough? If this is passed by the House and signed by the governor, the limit remains at a single case of 12-ounce cans (24 cans total) while increasing the amount of 16-ounce cans to a full case (a net increase of six cans) per taproom visit per day.

Sure, if you’re a local you probably aren’t looking to buy beer by the case from Proc or Buttonwoods. But what if you’re visiting from northern New England. From the West Coast? Internationally?

The fact is beer tourism exists and it’s big money for local economies. Craft beer lovers plan “beercations.” They take business trips and have some time to kill and might want to take home a lot of beer. Whatever the reason, why limit the amount of money that can be spent on a small business?

Just look at our neighbors to the north and south. I’ve spoken to many people in Massachusetts that have literally never heard of can or bottle limits (aside from those imposed by the brewery due to limited quantities). We’ve all seen the photos from Treehouse of HazeBros walking to their car with a hand truck or wagon in tow.

Photo via @TreeHouseBrewCo

On the other hand, our friends in Connecticut certainly know all about the struggles of state limits. Until just last week, taproom visitors faced even stingier limits than here in the Ocean State. But, thanks to the tremendous efforts by the Connecticut Brewers Guild and all of its members, state lawmakers agreed to increase off-premise sales limits from nine liters (approximately one case of 12-ounce cans) to nine gallons (approximately four cases of 12-ounce cans).

Now, let’s get back to the common argument that gets tossed around when we discuss these limits. “Who needs to buy multiple cases of beer?” “Aren’t 24 cans enough?” “Don’t you have better things to spend your money on?”

It doesn’t matter why you’re doing it. You want to give a sizable chunk of cash to a small business? That’s great! You’re probably going to visit another nearby brewery or two once you’ve filled your trunk. You might not buy another three cases of beer, but you’re sure as hell going to sample their beers. You’re also going to buy food from a food truck or maybe even visit a restaurant (with a solid tap list).

The point is, you’re going to spend money locally.

Small businesses are seeing cash they wouldn’t otherwise see. This might generally be a drop in the bucket for some communities, but what about a multi-day conference that attracts nearly 3,000 beer-lovers to the Greater Providence Area?! Sure, they can take home a four-pack or two from a Providence brewery. Or they can drive an hour to Treehouse and leave with literally hundreds of cans of beer.

Give visitors (and us residents) options! Let us choose to spend a paycheck on cans if we want to. Let Frank from Boise, Idaho leave Grey Sail with a hand truck stacked with Captain’s Daughter. He could buy all the beer he wants from the liquor store down the street from the brewery, but he wants to make sure 100% of the profit goes toward those who helped brew, can, and serve the beer. Let Frank spend his money and tell his friends in his homebrew club. Next summer they’re going to book a trip to Providence and re-visit all of the state’s best breweries and spend a lot more money.

The Ocean State is constantly looking for that tourist draw. It’s in a pretty unique situation where a person can easily visit every brewery over the course of a holiday weekend. It should be a no-brainer to enact true alcohol law reform and fully embrace the benefits of beer tourism.

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