The dispute stems from a 50-year-old law that has essentially allowed wholesale distributors to hold craft breweries hostage: Once the breweries sign on with a distributor for six months, they have had to show cause why the arrangement should be dissolved — and the qualifying causes are quite limited. Lawsuits have been inevitable.
The wholesalers have long held powerful sway over state lawmakers, which helps explain why the fight has gone on for so long, even as the number of craft breweries has grown and their products have become a part of the tourism landscape. In 2007, there were just 34 licensed craft breweries in the Commonwealth; now there are more than 200, and, before the pandemic, they employed about 6,000 people. The Massachusetts Brewers Guild, a membership association of craft brewers, estimates the economic value of the industry to the state at more than $2 billion.