Montclair Brewery is one of many craft beer makers across the state required to significantly alter its operations under a new set of regulations imposed by New Jersey’s Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control in June. 

But the microbrewery, along with others that are chafing at the new rules, is turning to state legislators for relief.

Established in 2014 by the married couple Leopold Sawadogo and Denise Ford Sawadogo, the business is the first Black-owned brewery to open in New Jersey.

The brewery is not only known for its craft beers but also for the many events, including open-mic nights and cornhole, held there throughout the year. In August alone, 12 events that are open to the public are on the brewery’s calendar.

In June, New Jersey’s Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control passed new rules that apply to breweries and the services they can offer.

Among the new rules:

  •  All patrons must participate in a tour of the facility prior to consuming alcohol on or off the premises.
  •  A brewery cannot sell food or operate a restaurant on its premises. However, it may offer such items as water and single-serve, pre-packaged crackers, chips, nuts and similar snacks.
  •  A brewery cannot collaborate with any food vendors.
  • A brewery cannot offer a free drink to any customers as a gesture of good will or allow  “happy hour” or other specially priced malt alcoholic beverages to be sold.
  • A brewery cannot hire a third-party promoter to engage or assist in planning of any on-site special event.
  • A brewery is limited to 25 special events per year that are open to the public.

The Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control did not respond to a request for comment about the new regulations before press time.

If the new regulations are not overturned, Montclair Brewery’s owners are concerned about how they’ll be able to engage with the community.

“I think most people will agree that those restrictions, it's not something to help businesses,” Ford Sawadogo said. “Small businesses are like the fabric of our economy, of society and of communities. It's so critical. So I think it's pretty obvious. Like, OK, if you put restrictions on a community business you're basically cutting off their feet. So we're hopeful that it's going to change.”

Elected officials are working on legislation to help brewery owners combat the new regulations. State Sen. Michael Testa, R-1, introduced the Testa bill, or S-3042, on Monday, Aug. 8. The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Steven Oroho, R-24, would allow breweries to hold an unlimited number of special events and remove  the required tour that the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control requires owners to give.

In a statement published on Oroho’s website, he said: “Small brewers across the state have made significant contributions to New Jersey’s economy, creating jobs and helping revitalize downtown districts. Recent regulatory changes interfere with local-based brew pubs to attract customers and make money, and this bill would remove some of the new restrictions. Trenton should be helping small business, not crushing them with unreasonable rules.”

Other regulations listed by the Division of Alcohol and Beverage Control are a cap on private events that the brewery is able to host and restrictions on cover charges.

In the meantime, Ford Sawadogo is confident that Montclair Brewery will continue to do its part to support the community. 

“So we're going to continue to put what our community wants first and foremost, because we’re in business for the community, too,” she said.

She added: “We're going to stay focused, and our community right now says they want cornhole, they want our open-mic nights, and they love the live music.”