So You Want to Start a Brewery in Michigan?

How many times have you spent sipping on a cold pint of the dark stuff with your friends when one of them, after finishing his third beer, has an epiphany: “Dude, we should totally start our own brewery…I mean how hard can it be?” Although your kind-hearted friend’s idea sounds good at the time, what he doesn’t know is that starting a brewery is no easy task. Navigating the laws and regulations alone would send most people running for the hills. However, there are some of you out there with the drive and passion for good beer and a determination to bring these tasty suds to the masses. So for those who’ve made it this far into my article, below I’ll outline the different types of licenses need to start a brewery in Michigan.

While breweries are regulated under both state and federal laws, for the purposes of this article I’ll just touch in the Michigan specific requirements. Michigan law allows a brewer to operate under either a brewer’s, brewpub or micro-brewery license.

Brewery License

A brewery license permits manufacturing an unlimited quantity of beer. Brewers may sell the beer they produce to licensed wholesalers, but many not sell directly to retailers. A brewer may also sell the beer it produces to consumers for on-premise consumption at only one brewing facility in Michigan, but it may sell beer that it produces at all of its facilities for off-premises consumption. Sampling of beer in a hospitality room located on the brewery premises is also permitted.

Micro-Brewery License

A micro-brewery license permits manufacturing of up to 60,000 barrels of beer annually (which includes any out-of-state production). Micro-brewers may sell beer to licensed wholesalers, but not directly to retailers. Micro-breweries that produce 30,000 barrels or less per year may sell directly to consumers for on and off-premise consumption without an additional license. Sampling of beer on the brewery premises is permitted.

Brewpub License

A brewpub license permits manufacturing up to 18,000 barrels of beer annually. In addition to a brewpub license, a brewpub must also hold an on-premise license (Class C, Tavern, A-Hotel, B-Hotel or Resort). The brewpub must operate a full service restaurant with at least 25% of gross sales coming from non-alcoholic items. Brewpubs may not sell their beer to wholesalers or retailers, but may sell their beer to consumers for on or off-premises consumption.

Key Differences between Licenses

The key differences between a brewer’s, micro-brewery and brewpub license are the amount of beer the establishment can produce, restaurant requirements and restrictions, and limitations on to whom you can sell.

Specifically, whereas a brewer’s license authorizes the production of an infinite amount of beer, a micro-brewery license restricts production to 60,000 barrels per year and a brewpub license restricts production to 18,000 barrels per year. While a brewery or micro-brewery may be allowed to have a restaurant on its premises, a brewpub license requires the brewer to operate a restaurant on its premises. No license permits the sale of beer directly to retailers and only breweries and micro-breweries may sell to wholesalers.

It is important to note that local regulations may further restrict your operations, such as stricter closing hours than state requirements. Thus, it is critical to research and understand the local ordinances prior to choosing a location. If you need assistance in establishing or navigating the laws and regulations that effect your brewery, please contact us at Morsel Law.

Streamlining Your Food Imports Into the U.S.

If you import food into the United States then you are familiar with the headaches and hassles that go along with this burdensome regulatory process. But that may change with the release of the draft guidance that outlines FDA’s plan to implement the Voluntary Qualified Importer Program (VQIP) mandated under the Food Safety Modernization Act. The VQIP is a voluntary, fee-based program for the expedited review and importation of foods from importers who achieve and maintain a high level of control over the safety and security of their supply chains.

The new draft guidance lays out the various benefits in addition to expedited entry that an importer can expect to receive from participating in VQIP, including limiting examination and/or sampling of VQIP food entries to “for cause” situations. Additionally, participants in the VQIP will have access to the VQIP Importers Help Desk, which will be dedicated to responding to questions and concerns of VQIP importers.

The draft guidance lays out the eligibility for participating in the program, which includes: (a) 3-year history of importing food into the U.S.; (b) do not import food subject to an import alert or Class 1 recall; (c) have a current facility certification for each foreign supplier of food intended to be imported under VQIP; and (d) be in compliance with Foreign Supplier Verification Program requirements and applicable seafood and juice HACCP regulations.

Participation in the VQIP is for the U.S. fiscal year, which begins on October 1st each year. Applications to participate in VQIP will need to be submitted electronically through the FDA’s industry portal between January 1st and May 31st before the fiscal year in which the importer seeks to join the program. FDA has indicated that due to resource constraints, it will limit the number of participants in the first year to 200 at the most. Participation must be renewed annually, and participants will be subject to FDA inspection.

If your company is considering participating in the VQIP program, carefully review the draft guidance as the FDA will only accept comments on until August 4, 2015.

Update: Ag Committee Passes Bill to Repeal COOL

The Agriculture Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives voted 38 to 6 to approve HR. 2393, a bill that would repeal Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) requirements for beef, pork and chicken products, while leaving intact the requirements for all other covered commodities, such as seafood and shellfish. This move comes just two days after the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled against parts of the COOL law, a requirement that labels tell consumers what countries the meat is from: for example, “born in Canada, raised and slaughtered in the United States” or “born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.”

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, a long-time supporter of the meat industry, stated “[w]e cannot sit back and let American businesses be held hostage to the desires of a small minority who refuse to acknowledge that the battle is lost.” But other congressmen don’t believe swift and immediate action is the way to react. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minnesota, ranking member on the Agriculture Committee, stated “I’m disappointed that the WTO ruled against the United States, but I think repealing COOL is premature…there are still several steps that have to occur before [retaliation from Canada and Mexico] would take place.”

What is interesting is how quickly Congress reacted to the WTO ruling, an international trade body with no input from American citizens. As mentioned in an earlier article, consumers are demanding increased transparency in the food supply, especially when it comes to knowing where their meat comes from. Moreover, more than 60 other countries have mandatory labeling requirements, including the European Union which requires indication of the country of birth, fattening and slaughter. Although the U.S. and EU laws are different, it is possible for Congress to review similar meat labeling laws and determine whether their is a suitable alternative to repealing the law outright. This may take some time, but it is better to get it right than to do it quick.

Congress is supposed to represent the people, not special interest groups; however, in passing this bill through committee it sends the message that their campaign donors are more important than voters. Time will only tell whether this bill goes anywhere, but I hope voters take notice and remember in November.