Alcohol Regulation Roundup: May 23, 2011

Alabama: Small vineyards in Alabama support a bill that would allow them to self-distribute up to 24,000 barrels a year, allowing them to compete with larger wineries. Under the current law, wineries may only self-distribute their product within 200 feet of the vineyard.

Colorado: As I blogged about last week, on Friday, May 13, Colorado’s Gov. Hickenlooper overturned the alcohol rules that banned some ultra-light beers from restaurants and taverns. While most observers unfamiliar with the many years-long beer battle occurring in the state might think this is a good thing. Unfortunately, those in the state wishing to do away with the low-alcohol beer that grocery stores are forced to sell in lieu of full-strength beer were hoping to use the bar-ban on low alcohol as a bargaining chip to get full-strength beer in grocery and convenience stores. Hickenlooper, a former microbrewer and friend of craft breweries, listened to the constituents who mistakenly believe that full-strength beer in grocery stores would harm craft beer in the state.

Illinois: Craft brewers in Illinois are one step closer to being able to bypass wholesaler/distributors. A state house committee unanimously approved a bill that would allow craft brewers, which it defines as those producing less than 465,000 gallons of beer annually, to distribute up to 7,500 barrels per year themselves without using a wholesaler. Under the proposal, craft brewers are defined as those who manufacture less than 465,000 gallons of beer a year.

Not all members of the craft beer movement in Illinois are happy with the proposal. A spokesman for the Craft Brewers Guild says it doesn’t go far enough for brew pubs that, under the proposal, would need to have or build a separate brewing facility in order to get a permit to self-distribute. They say this is a wasteful hurdle to force brewpubs to overcome.

Another bill to raise the distilled spirits cap from 5,000 to 15,000 was also passed in committee and now both bills will go to before the legislature for a full House vote.

Indiana: I’m happy to report that a measure I discussed in March, which would allow microbreweries in the state to increase production without losing their tax breaks, is now one step away from becoming law. The bill HB 1132 would allow microbreweries to produce up to 30,000 barrels of beer annually (currently restricted to 20,000) without losing their status as a “microbrewery” and the corresponding ability to self-distribute, receive tax breaks , and sell their product on-site.

The bill has now passed in both chambers and awaits a signature from Governor before becoming law.

Maryland: It’s official: direct shipping of wine is now officially legal in Maryland after Gov. O’Malley signed the bill. Now those folks who work in D.C. and live in Maryland don’t have to fear misdemeanor charges… at least, not for shipping wine to their D.C. offices.

Massachusetts: A new bill filed in the state Senate would create a wine-at-food-stores license, allowing grocery and convenience stores to sell wine throughout the state. Chain grocery stores would be limited to 20 licenses in the state and wouldn’t be permitted to have more than two in a city.

Pennsylvania: Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania state House approved a bill, which, among other things, would increase the number of hours a bar could have a “happy hour,” from the current two per day to four hours a day; up to 14 hours a week.

Rep. John Payne, the lead sponsor of HB 148, has introduced other proposals to liberate and update PA’s liquor laws. He says Pennsylvanians need to think about this and privatizations as business issue and a consumer issue, not just an alcohol issue. “Let’s make it convenient for the customer,” Payne said. “What a novel idea that we would try to do something for the customer.”


Tennessee: A bill that beer lovers hoped would break down Tennessee’s archaic cap on beer alcohol content was amended last week. The amendment to SB 1224 would license only three high-alcohol beer breweries statewide. Currently only one brewery in the state can make beer that has more than 6.2 percent ABV; Yazoo Brewing Company actually received a distiller’s license to do so. Some observers see this as justification to throw out the entire bill.

Texas: Craft beer lovers should do something they normally don’t do: defend big beer. Earlier this month, a representative for the brewing behemoth Anheuser-Busch InBev went before a state Senate committee this week to express their opposition to a craft beer bill that would allow small breweries (those producing less than 75,000 barrels annually) to sell small amounts their product for take-away consumption after brewery tours. While their opposition to HB 602 (which unanimously passed in the House), is bad, their reasons are understandable: they claim, rightly so, that the bill is discriminatory because it doesn’t afford the same privilege to large brewers. A reasonable gripe.

However, rather than opposing this bill, large brewers in Texas ought to work with the craft brewers to rid the the state of the death-grip that the powerful beer wholesalers have had for years. More on this in a follow-up post.