October 11, 2014

Northampton Awards New Seasonal License

The Northampton License Commission met last Wednesday night to select the newest recipient of a seasonal liquor license.

Bistro Les Gras was awarded the license, after the restaurant's name was chosen from a vintage spinning raffle drum, as reported by wggb.com

"I'm very excited," says Elizabeth Martinez, Owner of Bistro Les Gras. "I've never really been a lucky person, so I'm excited that the city awarded the license to anyone -- but especially, to us."

Liquor licenses are limited, and many communities have far less liquor licenses than they actually need. According to Elaine Reall of the License Commission, liquor licenses have become a commodity that's sold and resold for higher amounts of money.

"We happened to have one that was revoked from a license holder, who didn't use it for a number of years," explains Reall. "We revoked it and put it back into circulation."

Qualified small business owners made detailed presentations to the commission on their fiscal soundness, what their business plan is, and what they hoped to do with the license, if it was awarded to them.

Seven applications were reviewed by the commission Wednesday at a public meeting. And some restaurant owners, were called to the podium to defend their applications.

In the end, all seven restaurants -- Ibiza Tapas, Hinge, Local Burger, the Sierra Grille, Sylvester's, Treydon's Bar and Grill, Bistro Les Gras -- were considered.

Bistro Les Gras was selected by a representative of The Academy of Music who was present at the meeting.

Martinez says this new liquor license will make a big impact on the business -- Bistro Les Gras can now offer specialty drinks, and draw-in a crowd from Smith College.

The restaurant must now operate under this new license for at least one year.

October 10, 2014

Easthampton Brewery Wants to Serve on Premises

The proprietor of Fort Hill Brewery is seeking permission to pour pints of lager for visitors to his state-of-the-art facility on Fort Hill Road in Easthampton.

Masslive.com reports that owner and head brewer Eric Berzins appeared before the Easthampton Licensing Board on Monday night with his request. The commission took no immediate action, and agreed to inspect and tour the facility on Oct. 20.

Currently, Berzins has a farmer-brewery license, which allows him to brew beer on premises and sell it wholesale. The license also lets him sell retail bottles to customers, if they are opened and consumed off-premises. He is also permitted to give small samples to visitors.

Under state law, local licensing boards can grant a license to the holder of a farmer-winery license to pour and sell full pints, so long as it's done in a manner deemed "reasonable and proper."

Berzins said being able to pour and sell pints at a set price would "eliminate ambiguity" about the free samples. "It would make our lives better as businessmen," he said. He said the extra revenue would help the brewery be more competitive. "Our electricity bills are very high," Berzins said.

Fort Hill Brewery "would not operate as a bar," Berzins promised, but would hold limited hours. The tasting room is open from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday.

Berzins said at full capacity, Fort Hill Brewery could produce 8,000 barrels a year, which puts his facility at about half the size of Berkshire Brewing in South Deerfield.

Berzins told The Republican / MassLive that Fort Hill has just released a new lager called "M3," which represents an improvement over the previous lager known as "Mark II."

"We're trying to produce a lager that's as smooth as possible," he said. Berzins said the brewery adheres to the traditional Bavarian purity law, which allows only hops, barley, water and yeast in the brewing process.

He also said Fort Hill is ready to start producing beer in cans, and is waiting for federal approval for the cans' labeling. The U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau must approve the labels for bottles and cans of beer.

The Boston-area transplant learned the beer craft by working at the Blue Hills Brewery in Canton, and by attending the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago and Munich, Germany.

Fort Hill, which delivered its first batch of beer in August, grows its own hops.

The public hearing on Berzin's application was continued until Oct. 27, when a decision likely will be made. Any decision by the local board needs approval by the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.

October 6, 2014

Pittsfield Board Revokes Unused Liquor License

The number of alcohol serving licenses available in Pittsfield has shrunk by one, following a unanimous vote by the Licensing Board to revoke a license held by Willard Curtis, former proprietor of The Tavern on 4th Street.

While The Tavern closed its doors more than four years ago, uncertainty has surrounded the fate of its license, in a saga of postponed sanction that has occupied the board intermittently for nearly two years.

"I think the board has to wash our hands of it," said board member Richard Stockwell, motioning to cancel the latent license following an update on its disposition.

Under Massachusetts law, a license cannot continue to be held if it remains inactive, a proposition the Licensing Board has struggled with, offering numerous reprieves and postponements to allow the owner to sell it rather than have the city lose the license altogether.

The recurring possibility of an upcoming sale had thus far stayed the board's hand, though repeated attempts by potential buyers have gone without response from Curtis or his attorney.

"We have been actively chasing licenses around the city," said attorney Syd Smithers, representing Main Street Hospitality's upcoming Hotel On North.

Smithers said that after about six months of trying to come to an arrangement for the former Tavern license, the hotel business has just signed a letter of intent for a license transfer from another seller.

"You sure were dogged to try and straighten all that out," said board member Robert Quattrochi

The board's reticence to take the license has been seen at repeated meetings since 2012, and in November 2013 the board issued what it called a "last chance" for the owner to negotiate its sale, which included several years in unpaid licensing fees.

September 4, 2014

Orleans market loses liquor license for 3 days

The Cape Cod Times reports that the Orleans Board of Selectmen ordered a convenience store's liquor sales license suspended for three days after a police sting caught an employee selling beer to someone under 21.

An employee at the Hess Mart at 401 South Orleans Road on June 20 sold a six-pack of Budweiser Light to an underage person who was cooperating with the police, according to Orleans police Lt. Kevin Higgins.

The severity of the penalty came largely because the town's liquor stores had been amply warned in advance of an upcoming police sting operation, the four selectmen at the meeting said. Also, the store's location in a remoter part of town has a record of three or four violations, the selectmen said.

The store came under the management of Hess Mart of Massachusetts in 2009, Hess Mart regional manager Peter Frattarola said. Most of the previous violations were prior to Hess Mart taking over the site, Higgins said.

Historically, the selectmen have issued a warning for a first offense and then increased the severity of the penalty with more violations, up to and including revocation of a license, Town Administrator John Kelly said.

The vote of the selectmen was unanimous.

The selectmen, as the town licensing authority, held the show-cause hearing to gather evidence about why the store's liquor license should not be modified, suspended or revoked due to the violation, in accordance with state law.

Higgins, Frattarola and Police Chief Scott MacDonald spoke to the selectmen during the hearing.

The employee of nine months who sold the beer was fired, Frattarola said.

Over the summer, police conducted sting operations on all nine businesses that have what are informally called off-premise consumption liquor licenses, according to Higgins. All the establishments were checked on June 20 in the sting operation, and all passed except the Hess Mart, Higgins said.

August 14, 2014

Southborough alcohol licenses win favor in House

After sidelining Gov. Deval Patrick's proposal to make alcohol licensing a purely local responsibility, the House and Senate have approved a few local licensing requests.

The House passed a pair of bills based on legislation proposed by Acton Sen. James Eldridge and Holliston Rep. Carolyn Dykema. One bill (H 4311) specifies a license for Panzano Market in Southborough and the other (H 4312) authorizes a license for Sperry's Country Market Beer and Wine. Both businesses are located on Turnpike Road.

The Senate gave the green light to a bill allowing the town of Easton to grant one more license, which is limited to North Easton Village under a proposal based on legislation filed by Rep. Claire Cronin. The Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee is still weighing a Rep. Kate Hogan bill to grant five alcohol licenses to people operating businesses at Highland Commons in Hudson (H 4313) and a Rep. Jay Barrows bill (H 4361) specifying licenses for the Mansfield Crossing Pouring License Area and the Mansfield Marketplace/The Pavilion Pouring License Area.

The governor in April proposed as part of his economic development bill a plan to place authority for granting liquor licenses in the hands of municipalities, which the governor said would "allow local communities to make responsible decisions regarding their economic development and growth." Patrick is reviewing a redrafted version of the so-called jobs bill that does not contain that proposal.

July 16, 2014

Somerville liquor store suspended for illegal wholesales

After illegally selling liquor wholesale to establishments in Somerville and surrounding communities, Ball Square Liquors was closed for several days in July, as reported by Somerville Wicked Local.

The state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) ordered the liquor store to serve the mandatory five-day suspension after investigators searched store records and determined last summer that Ball Square Liquors had been illegally selling alcohol to six establishments: The Greek American Social Club and The Demosthenes Greek American Democrat Club in Somerville, Desi Dhaba in Cambridge, Kathmandu Restaurant in Arlington, Kabab Corner in Medford, and Santorini in Revere.

Records show Ball Square Liquors paid the ABCC a $68,323 fee in lieu of an 85-day suspension, but Ball Square Liquors owner Chris Lianos said he couldn't do anything about the mandatory five-day suspension.
"The only thing I can say is this business that unfortunately happened to us, is something that was happening years ago," Lianos said. "It's a different business now. We're putting it behind us and we will continue to move forward with growing the business the way we have in the last three or four years."

Lianos pointed out that Ball Square Liquors received Best of Boston honors in 2011 and 2013.

According to findings last summer from the state's Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, Kathmandu Spice in Arlington made 105 purchases from Ball Square Liquors, totaling $14,320. Owner Sheela Mandahar told investigators she bought alcohol from the establishment and the store also made deliveries to her restaurant.

State law requires restaurant owners to purchase alcohol from licensed distributors, not storefronts. But Mandahar said she found it difficult to find distributors willing to deliver the small amounts of beer and wine Kathmandu Spice needs.

"I don't need that much. I only need a little beer," Mandahar said, according to reports.

Kathmandu Spice paid $1,200 in fines in lieu of a suspension.

Jon Carlisle, communications director for the state treasurer's office, which oversees the ABCC, said MassachusettsÂ’ law addressing distributor sales is an old one, and said its basis is uncertain.
"These laws have been on the books for many years, many since the general time around Prohibition, so the precise thinking at the time the law was crafted is a bit cloudy," Carlisle said in an email. "We see this violation from time to time, but it's not something that's particularly widespread. When we do encounter it, we take it quite seriously, and mete out penalties accordingly."

July 15, 2014

Liquor Stores to Open Earlier on Sundays?

Massachusetts liquor stores would be able to open their doors two hours earlier on Sundays under a bill approved by state lawmakers.

The Senate on Tuesday passed on a voice vote a bill to allow the retail sale of alcoholic beverages at 10 a.m. on Sundays.

Currently retain liquor sales are banned until noon.

The House has already approved the bill, which needs final approval in both chambers before heading to Gov. Deval Patrick's desk for his signature.

The bill is the latest effort by lawmakers to chip away at Massachusetts so-called ''blue laws,'' some of which dated back to the Puritan leaders of the original Massachusetts Bay Colony.

A total ban on Sunday sales of alcohol at liquor stores had remained in place for two centuries in Massachusetts until it was lifted in 2003.

July 4, 2014

Bill would let wineries ship legally to Mass.

The Boston Globe reported today that Massachusetts consumers are one step closer to getting wine delivered straight to their doorsteps.

The state Legislature has created a new permit system that will allow out-of-state wineries to sell and ship their bottlings directly to Massachusetts consumers beginning next year. If approved by Governor Patrick, the legislation would resolve a longstanding frustration of wine enthusiasts who found it nearly impossible to sample new vintages that were not available at their local store.

"This is good news for Massachusetts wine enthusiasts, who will now be able to purchase wines they currently don't have access to," said Robert Dwyer of Wellesley, who blogs about wine, as reported by the Globe.

The new permit system was necessary after a federal court in 2008 struck down a previous Massachusetts law that allowed limited direct-to-consumer sales, mostly from small wineries. Wineries can obtain the new permit for $300, and would then be allowed to ship up to 12 cases a year to a Massachusetts customer.

Under the bill, wineries are required to label their packages as containing alcohol and indicate that they must be delivered to someone of legal drinking age. Massachusetts taxes must be applied to the purchase, and wineries that break the rules are subject to fines or suspensions of their permit.

Getting it here, though, might still be difficult. Some freight companies such as UPS refuse to ship wine to Massachusetts because the state requires they obtain a special license for each truck that delivers alcohol, said Jeff Carroll, director of compliance for ShipCompliant, which helps wineries negotiate state laws.

Most other states offer shippers so-called "fleet licenses," a single permit that covers a company's entire trucking fleet, but Carroll said it was unclear if the measure approved by the Massachusetts Legislature resolves the shipping issue. There is a separate bill pending in the Legislature that would allow for fleet permits, but that hasn't progressed in nearly a year.

In other states, the direct-to-consumer wine business has grown rapidly. In 2013, almost $1.6 billion of wine was shipped to consumers nationally, according to ShipCompliant. On a per-capita basis, Massachusetts neighbors Connecticut and New Hampshire were both among the top-10 purchasers of mail-order wine last year.

The Massachusetts legislation was in part spurred by a lobbing blitz last year from former Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who owns a winery in Washington State. Bledsoe likes to tell the story of how he sold wine to his successor at the Patriots, Tom Brady, but could not send it to Brady's home in Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, the Globe reported, package stores in Massachusetts had long opposed direct-to-consumer sales and had asked the Legislature to more sharply limit who could ship wine into the state.

"The restrictions are somewhat less severe than we would have liked," said Frank Anzalotti, executive director of the Massachusetts Package Stores Association. "But that is what a compromise does. It doesn't make anyone totally happy."

The new wine-by-mail permit was included in the state budget that lawmakers passed earlier this week. The governor has until next week to sign the budget or reject individual items in it.

June 15, 2014

Somerville Paper Editorializes on Liquor Laws

Good piece in the Somerville Journal about the liquor license quota system and Governor Patrick's desire to loosen the current cap and restrictions.

April 11, 2014

Springfield Nightclub Shutting Down

A Springfield nightclub will be temporarily shutting down, following a meeting between an owner of the club and the city's director of licensing, a spokesperson for Mayor Domenic Sarno said.

Director of Communications James Leydon said that Lux nightclub on Worthington Street will cease operations.

According to Leydon, Director of Licensing Alesia Days met with Paul Ramesh, who is in the process of selling the club to Sherwood Jarrett, who is overseeing Lux's day-to-day operations with Gabriel Reyes.

"Attorney Alesia Days has indicated that the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission has raised administrative issues with the pending transfer to Mr. Jarrett. Until these issues are resolved, Lux nightclub will remain closed," Leydon wrote in a statement sent to 22News.

The nightclub on lower Worthington Street received recent attention, first after a shooting outside the club, and again when an assistant city solicitor issued a cease-and-desist order regarding an upcoming event there.

April 8, 2014

Cities and Towns Seeks Add'l Licenses

Good piece in the Gloucester Times about the cap/quota system in cities and towns across the state, and recent efforts made to increase the number of liquor licenses available in any given municipality.

December 25, 2013

Three Danvers businesses caught in liquor sting

Two Danvers restaurants and one liquor store were caught selling liquor to an underaged "operative," Police Chief Neil Ouellette told the selectmen at a recent meeting, as reported by the Danvers Herald.

"Unfortunately, I'm a little bit troubled to report that we had three situations of non-compliance where an underage operative was, in fact, served alcohol beverages," Ouellette said.

The compliance check sting was conducted on Friday, Nov. 29, in the late afternoon and early evening. While the majority of restaurants that serve alcohol and liquor stores in town passed the test, Brutole Restaurant on Route 1 and Hong Kong Café at 12 Maple St. served the young woman a Bud Light. And the woman was able to purchase a bottle of red wine at Merchant Liquor Mart at 88 High St.

The Police Department conducts the compliance checks twice a year in an effort to remind owners of liquor licenses that Danvers strongly backs strict enforcement of underage drinking laws.

"Chief, I'm very disappointed," said Selectman Dan Bennett. "Three violations on one night. We had been doing pretty good. I thought, your sting, if you will call it that, was a good educational tool, letting people know that we are coming out to check. We expect people to be compliant."

Ouellette explained that each of the businesses was in violation of the rule in Massachusetts state law that makes it illegal to sell or furnish an alcoholic beverage to a person under 21.

December 19, 2013

Franklin council to review penalties for liquor license violators

Franklin town councilors will discuss new guidelines for penalizing businesses caught selling liquor to minors, according to the Milford Daily News.

All businesses found to have illegally sold alcohol to a minor face possible suspension of their liquor licenses, with the penalties handed down by the council. In recent years, the majority of violations have come as a result of police department sting operations, during which a teenager working with law enforcement attempts to purchase an alcoholic beverage.

Usually the council asks the police chief for a recommendation before doling out punishment.

The proposed guidelines, though, would give councilors a starting point when deciding how long suspensions should run.

According to the guidelines, first offenders are to receive a three- to five-day suspension, with three days to serve and two put on hold for two years unless there is another violation; second-time offenders would get a five- to seven-day suspension, with three to serve and five put off; and third-time offenders face losing their license for five to seven days.

The suspensions should begin on the day the violation occurs, according to the guidelines.

There are several factors the council could consider when deciding the penalties, including the business' willingness to acknowledge the violation and history of suspensions.

The state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission reviews each case after the local liquor license governing board makes its ruling. The ABCC may weigh the difference between violations resulting from sting operations differently than those that occur under normal circumstances.

October 27, 2013

Hingham restaurant owners oppose proposed liquor license fee hike

Several Hingham restaurant owners sent the Selectmen a clear message -- not to double the current all-alcoholic common victualler annual license fees -- from $2,000 to $4,000 as recently proposed, as reported by wicked local hingham.

Representatives/owners from Scarlet Oak Tavern, Salsa's, Burtons Grill, Liberty Grill, Eat Well (Tosca, Star's, Tosca Caffe), the Square Cafe, Ocean Kai, and the Allston-based Restaurant & Business Alliance attended a recent meeting when the issue appeared on the agenda. Most spoke -- none in favor of the $2,000 increase, with a few open to a gradual increase over time.

A recent survey of 19 comparable communities found that Hingham's all-alcoholic common victualler license fees are far lower than those of some of the other towns.

As a result, Town Administrator Ted Alexiades recommended increasing the annual fee in that liquor license category only.
This is part of an ongoing effort to look at what the town is charging for various services to ensure associated costs are covered.

Salsa's owner David Littlefield said he was "blindsided" when he received a letter from the Selectmen -- sent to each of the 26 establishments in Hingham that hold that particular type of license to inform them that a fee increase is under consideration. "This year has been tough," he said. He opposed the proposed hike. "Restaurants are part of the fabric of the community."

Liberty Grill owner Christian Thompson strongly opposed the proposed increase. "I feel that restaurants are a vehicle that generates revenue for the town," he said, referring in part to meals tax funds. "I not only disapprove of the proposed increase, but I also think the fee should be rolled back."

A number of restaurant owners/operators said that last winter's snowstorms and the current Red Sox playoffs and other sports events have significantly cut into their business.

Selectmen Chair Bruce Rabuffo announced that the board received a letter from Hingham Attorney Michael Nuesse on behalf of a number of local restaurateurs who are concerned about the proposed hike.
"These business owners/operators feel a more thoughtful and careful review of any cost increase to any liquor license issued by the town is warranted," the letter states.

October 24, 2013

Milford selectmen consider stricter penalties for liquor license offenders

The Milford Daily News reports that selectmen are considering implementing stricter penalties for package stores and establishments with pouring licenses caught selling to minors, including requiring a suspension for first-time offenders.

Town Counsel Gerry Moody first brought the issue to selectmen in July while preparing for a hearing at the state's Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.

The informal policy of the board on a first offense of a liquor license holder being found serving a minor is only to impose a "warning" to the establishment, Moody said.

"The difficulty becomes, as my research has revealed, that such an action will not be considered part of the progressive discipline in response to a first offense," writes Moody in a memo to selectmen. "The ABCC does not consider such warnings or 'on probation' status to be discipline that can be counted in later settings."

Moody notes recent ABCC decisions, not necessarily on Milford cases, has been to reduce suspensions in cases where establishments have only seen warnings in the past because they are "treating the matters under consideration as first offenses."

"Your Board probably should consider a more detailed and slightly more formal progressive discipline policy," Moody wrote.

The proposed penalty proposed by Moody would include a one-day suspension for a first offense and considers imposing suspensions of three, seven and 13 days for second, third and fourth offenses, respectively.

"You will probably want to maintain sufficient flexibility for later offenses, with increased or decreased amount based upon mitigating or extenuating circumstances," Moody wrote.

The board will consider the penalties proposed by Moody.