Alcohol Regulation Roundup: January 25, 2013

National: According to the Brewers Association, the trade group that represents smaller craft breweries, the Small BREW Act will be reintroduced in Congress in January 2013 after failing to come to a vote in 2012. H.R. 1236 and its companion legislation, S. 534, would have reduce excise tax rates for small brewers (those making under 6 million barrels a year), from $7.00 to $3.50/barrel on the first 60,000 barrels and $16.00 per barrel on beer production above 60,000 barrels up to 2 million barrels.

Alabama: Rep. Mac McCutcheon has proposed a bill that would legalize home brewing in Alabama — at least a very small amount of it. If passed, HB 9 would make Mississippi the only state maintaining a ban on home brewing. The bill would allow Alabamians to legally brew up to 13 gallons of beer, wine, cider, or mead every three months.

Colorado: Rep. Kevin Priola thinks he’s found a way to solve the ongoing battle to get full strength beer in grocery stores. Currently, grocery and convenience stores may sell beer with an alcohol content of 3.2 percent or less. Priola’s bill would let stores carry full strength beer made by “craft” brewers — that is, beer makers who produce less than 6 million barrels a year. MillerCoors and AB InBev will almost certainly push back against the move, as will liquor manufacturers being left out in the cold. When you try to change an entrenched system you will never make everyone happy, but perhaps this different approach is the step forward that can get the ball rolling.

District of Columbia: It’s now officially legal for stores to sell and deliver liquor on Sundays. On January 15, 2013, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray signed the Omnibus Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Emergency Amendment Act and by the next day the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration began accepting applications from liquor stores hoping to stay open on Sundays. In addition to Sunday sales, growlers (reusable containers holding up to 64 fluid ounces of beer) can now be sold and filled by brew pubs, liquor stores, and full service grocery stores for off-site consumption.

Kentucky: Kentucky legislators are scrambling to respond to a court decision last year that overturned the state’s ban on selling wine and hard spirits at grocery stores and gas stations. The judge stayed his ruling, preventing stores from acting on the changed laws, but if the legislature can’t come to an agreement in the 2013 session, the ruling will go into effect.

Maryland: Lawmakers in Maryland have introduced measures (House Bill 4 and Senate Bill 32) that would allow breweries to sell beer on site, up to 6,000 barrels a year.

Massachusetts: Legislators and advocates in Massachusetts are making an attempt to update the state’s beer franchising laws to ease the legal and regulatory burdens on the state’s small brewers. Currently, if a small brewer wants to get out of his or her contract with a wholesaler, the process is a long and expensive court fight. House Bill 999, which was filed this week, would update the laws and give “a definitive process by which it could change wholesalers.” The change, hopefully, would make it easier for small brewers to end a contract with a wholesaler if they are not meeting expectations.

Mississippi: Home brewing in Mississippi faces a catch-22: it’s legal in the state with a permit from the Department of Revenue, but state tax officials say there isn’t a permit that specifically applies to home brewers—only permits that apply to commercial breweries and brewpubs which run $1,000. On the plus side, Rep. David Baria, says he’s likely to introduce a bill in the 2013 legislature to exempt home brewers from permits and excise taxes.

Missouri: If the bill Sen. Eric Schmitt introduced in early January is approved, home brewers in the state will be allowed to pour at festivals, competitions, and charity events. Senate Bill 114 would amend state statute that limits home brew to “personal or family use,” and while they wouldn’t be allowed to sell their beer, they could give samples for free. This bill comes after home brewed beer was banned from festivals last year.

New Hampshire: The legislature is considering a proposed 33-percent tax increase on wholesale beer has many in the state worried about the state’s ability to compete with bordering state. Because New Hampshire prices for a case of beer are slightly cheaper, much of the sales revenue comes from cross-border sales. Small brewers in the state also worry that the increased tax (from 30 to 40 cents per gallon) might prompt consumers to purchase cheaper brands instead of craft beer.

North Dakota: A bill that would allow wineries in North Dakota sell directly to retail shops was approved by a House committee on January 15. If approved by the legislature, Bill 1077 would allow wineries in the state that produce no more than 50,000 gallons per year, sell and deliver wine directly to a restaurant, bar, or bottle shop without having to go through a wholesaler.

Also in North Dakota: A bill that would allow home brewers to sell their suds! Sen. Oley and Rep. Dan Ruby are sponsoring legislation that would allow home brewers to pay an annual $100 licensing fee for a “domestic brewery license,” which would allow them to sell up to 25,000 barrels of beer each year either from their house or to retailers. If the retailing establishment is more than 150 miles away from their brewery, the home brewers could contract with a wholesaler to distribute their brew to restaurants, bars, or stores. It’s unlikely that wholesalers will add home brews to their portfolios, but this bill could be an innovative way to help families earn a little money and gain experience in the beer business before spending the thousands of dollars to become a larger operation.

Oregon: It’s looking more likely that a push to privatize alcohol sales will come to Oregon in 2013. The various sides are building up steam and starting to spend money. Oregon beer and wine distributors (who generally like the system) and the Northwest Grocery Association (which would favor privatization) are both spending money on surveying public sentiment on the issue. Some worry that Washington State’s slightly botched transition from control-state to private sales has soured Oregonians against the idea of privatization. Time will tell.