Alcohol Regulation Roundup: March 29, 2011

With April Fool’s Day just around the corner, you might think that I’m pulling one over on my readers with the some of the laws below… unfortunately, the following roundup contains a number of outdated, silly, and useless regulations that are actually in place or under consideration:

Nation: Small brewers are cheering the “BEER Act,” the Brewer’s Employment and Excise Relief Act, which would cut excise taxes for craft brewers, was introduced this month by Sens. John Kerry and Mike Crapo. Currently, brewers pay $7 per barrel in excise taxes on their first 60,000 barrels and $18 per barrel between 60,000 and 2 million barrels. The act would cut the excise tax in half for the first 60,0000 barrels, reduce the taxes on the subsequent barrels, and redefine “small brewer” from its current definition (producing under 2 million barrels per year) to a brewery making less than 6 million barrels of beer per year.

Colorado: The Hick is in hot water again. The Denver Post reports that they have obtained hundreds of documents and e-mails that show brewers’ influence over Governor Hickenlooper from the first hours of his administration. The report comes at a tenuous time as committees look into Hickenlooper’s recent “heavy handed” interference in alcohol regulation. Last month, his office directed revenue officials to overturn a rule requiring alcohol testing (a rule that was passed last year to combat the disallowance of grocery/convenience stores to sell full-strength beer).

Indiana: Small brewers in Indiana are those that produce less than 20,000 barrels per year. Because of their “small brewer” status, they pay half of the state excise taxes that brewers making over 20,000 pay. But brewers say that is hampering growth and they want the definition of “small brewer” changed to any brewery producing less than 60,000 barrels a year — with the corresponding lower excise tax. While there is currently no bill in before lawmakers, the state’s larger small brewers hope to introduce a measure soon.

Maryland: The Maryland House passed legislation on Saturday that would allow wineries to directly ship to customers. The Senate gave initial approval last week and is expected to vote on the measure this week.

Michigan: Maryland’s Flying Dog Brewery is raging mad and suing the Michigan Liquor Control Commission over of its refusal to allow the brewery to sell their “Raging Bitch” beer. Flying Dog is asking a federal judge to override the board’s rejection of their label.

“Regrettably, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission and its members have taken it upon themselves to control not merely alcoholic beverages, but speech as well,” Flying Dog Attorney Alan Gura of D.C.-based Gura & Possessky, PLLC said in a statement released by the brewery Monday. “The defendants arbitrarily imposed their personal tastes in banning Raging Bitch, clearly violating Flying Dog’s First Amendment right to free expression.”

Also in Michigan, Four Loko is back on shelves with the same amount of alcohol as before sans the energy kick. The pre-reformulated drink was banned by the Michigan Liquor Control Commission (MLCC) earlier in the year for supposedly causing “wide awake drunks” and sickening students around the country. Despite Four Loko’s reformulation, the  MLCC continues to criticize the product for its high alcohol content.

North Carolina: Lawmakers are considering closing the state’s Division of Alcohol Law Enforcement, which would save the state an estimated $9.5 million a year. The enforcement duties, and possibly the 112 A.L.E. officers, would be transferred to other departments.

Texas: In Texas, craft beer lovers celebrated “Beer Freedom Day” by storming the state capitol to express their desire for change in the way the state treats breweries. Organized by Scott Metzger, the owner of Freetail Brewing in San Antonio, Beer Freedom Day supports two measures before the state legislature: HB 602 would allow microbrewers to charge for tours of the brewery and offer their beer as a parting “gift,” basically giving them a way to side-step the three-tier system and sell beer at their brewery (which they currently can’t do). HB 660 would allow brewpubs to sell their beer off-site at local stores and bars, as they are currently only allowed to sell at the brewery-restaurant. While “Beer Freedom Day” clearly shows that consumers and producers want change to Texas’s outdated and onerous alcohol laws, they will have a tough fight with the powerful wholesale beer distributors in the state.

Utah: Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed SB 314 into law last week, changing the state’s liquor laws despite opposition. As I have reported before, SB 314 is a mixed bag, mostly bad, that will result in numerous changes in Utah’s alcohol regulation. Contentious parts of the bill include the private sale of liquor licenses and a provision allowing the governor to appoint a chairman of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. The bill eliminates daily drink specials, increases liquor and beer licenses for restaurants, allows drinks to be delivered through room service, changes when bars and restaurants can serve alcohol, and bans mini-kegs. The supposed purpose of the bill is not to increase business or freedom, but rather to encourage people to eat while drinking alcohol.

Washington: Costco is once again asking the state of Washington to alter its laws, allowing the big box store to sell hard liquor. According to The Columbian, rumors are swirling that Costco is working on a liquor privatization bill resembling last year’s initiative I-1100, which would have allowed retailers to buy directly from distilleries and allowed retailers to become distributors. According to the article, the difference between last year’s attempt and the new initiative would be eligibility to buy liquor licenses would be limited to retail spaces with a minimum 9,000 square feet, reducing the licenses to just over 1,000 as opposed to the more than 3,000 licenses last year’s I-1100 would have allowed.