Alcohol Regulation Roundup: New Year Edition 2013

With a new year comes a new opportunity to take stock in our past endeavors and renew our goals for the future. While many a New Year’s resolution involves alcohol (usually an effort to drink less of it), some lawmakers out there have resolutions of their own related to alcohol; specifically, alcohol regulations. Hopefully, in 2013 we will see a continuation of the trend towards more liberal alcohol laws that make it easier and more affordable for producers, purveyors, and patrons of the fermented and distilled arts.

National: The TTB, without much fanfare, introduced a measure that would reduce the bond tax burden on small brewers.

District of Columbia: Apparently not every politician in D.C. is unable to act. On December 18, the D.C. Council unanimously approved an omnibus alcohol bill that would, among other things, allow Sunday liquor sales, create a permit for wine pubs, and allow grocery stores and brew pubs to fill growlers (64-ounce reusable jugs). Councilmember Jim Graham deserves a cheer even if his previous proposals focused on raising alcohol taxes.

Kansas: Uncork Kansas, a coalition of convenience stores, grocery stores, and chambers of commerce, says it plans to introduce a bill early in the legislative session to change state law and allow full-strength beer and liquor sales in grocery stores. Of course, liquor store owners who are currently the only retailers allowed to sell full-strength beer, liquor, and wine, oppose the measure because they see it as a threat to their business model.

Mississippi: After successfully battling to raise the allowable alcohol content of beer, activists in Mississippi were gearing up for their next fight to get growlers legalized in the state only to realize it is already legal! A few brave business owners waded into the legal gray legal area and began selling the jugs of fresh beer, but demand is low because most customers don’t even realize it is an option. This is sort of the activist’s equivalent of finding that $20 bill you don’t remember putting in your coat pocket.

New Jersey: For a second year in a row tow identical bills have been introduced in the state Assembly by Reed Gusciora and in Senate by Shirley Turner to create a Craft Distillery License with an annual fee of $938. There are only two licensed distillers in the state and some believe that the reason there are not more is because of prohibitively high licensing fees. Currently, distillers regardless of how much they produce, must pay an annual fee of $12,500. The new craft license would limit producers to under 20,000 gallons a year and require them to get at least 51 percent of their ingredients in-state. The bill was passed out of Senate committee by a vote of 3 to 2, and now awaits consideration by the full Senate.

New York: Last month, Governor Cuomo stood up for alcohol consumers and businesses by rejecting a proposal from the New York State Public Health and Health Planning Council that would increase taxes on alcohol sales, “decrease available liquor licenses for bars and liquor stores, limit alcohol advertising, increase drunk-driving checkpoints, and increase surveillance of adult alcohol purchases for minors.”

Tennessee: Wine drinkers might soon be able to pick up their bottles in grocery stores. Under the state’s restrictive scheme, beverages greater than 6.3 percent ABV (5 percent ABW) may only be sold in one of the state’s 501 liquor stores. However, two top Republicans in the Generally Assembly are proposing an overhaul that would allow wine to be sold in grocery stores.

Texas: Legislators in Texas are set to consider a bill that might open up the craft beer movement in the Lone Star State. House Bill 602, which was approved by the Texas House last session, would allow manufacture breweries to charge for tours and sell their beers on premises. Currently, small brewers may not sell their beer on the premise (though tastings are allowed) and brewpubs may not distribute their beer to stores — they may only sell on-premise. House Bill 602 would allow breweries to sell beer on-premise. While bill 660 which would have allowed brewpubs to distribute their beer at stores failed to make it through committee, it will reportedly be reintroduced in January.