A Massachusetts craft beer distributor has been handed a multi-million dollar fine for paying bars to stock its products, according to a local report.

In a long-running investigation, state authorities found that the Craft Brewers Guild of Everett was operating a 'pay-to-play' system that broke local alcohol regulations, the Boston Globe reported this week. Employees of the distributor gave Boston bars and restaurants thousands of dollars in return for carrying its craft brands and keeping out rivals.

Last month, authorities suspended the Craft Brewers Guild's licence for 90 days. However, this week, the company chose to pay a fine instead. The Boston Globe said the fine totalled about US$2.6m. 

The pay-to-play system first came to light after a brewer represented by the Craft Brewers Guild complained about the practice on Twitter in 2014, according to the Globe. The subsequent investigation found that the distributor had paid at least US$120,000 to Boston bars and restaurants.

The Craft Brewers Guild did not respond to a just-drinks request for comment but a spokesperson told the Boston Globe that it chose to pay the fine to avoid the suspension.

The spokesperson said the distributor cooperated fully with the investigation and insisted the company no longer offered inducements to retailers.

According to previous Globe reports, Craft Brewers Guild distributes beers from brewers including Yuengling and Lagunitas. It is a subsidiary of the Sheehan Family Co, which operates 19 beer distributors in 13 states.

The US beer industry has been involved in a number of disputes over distribution in the past few months, however most have been unfavourable to craft brewers. In October, regulators in the country probed allegations that A-B InBev's US arm, Anheuser-Busch, was buying distributors in an attempt to stifle craft beer competition.