Thursday, May 21, 2015

HB-625 rides again - sorta

Posted By on Thu, May 21, 2015 at 1:26 PM

Oh Politics, I wish I knew how to quit you.

Just last month, there was a flurry of activity from craft brewers across the state, struggling to keep two bills on life support. Those two bills died in committee along with eight others; they weren’t even read.

The more contentious of the two, House Bill 278, was to raise the self-distribution limit for local breweries. It found itself square in the crosshairs of a campaign fronted by the North Carolina Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association, which has long contended that raising the limit was “a no-fly zone.”

HB-625 was also drawn into this crusade; while auspiciously a bill that would allow for Contract Brewing to occur at a North Carolina-based brewery, it did contain language that addressed the self-distribution cap. Ultimately, the passage that exempted a brewery’s tap room sales from the self-distribution limit led directly to its demise.

Really quick Contract Brewer definition, straight from the Brewers Association: “a business that hires another brewery to produce its beer. The contract brewing company is often responsible for recipe development and handles the marketing, sales and distribution of the beer.”

Today, the language of HB-625 that didn’t ruffle the feathers of wholesalers is finding new life: inserted as part of HB-909 as that bill moved through the Senate’s Commerce committee. HB-909 originated as a bill that would allow for sales of “antique spirituous liquor,” products that have not been in production in the last 20 years. Now, original 2-pages-and-change bill has grown to a solid 12, chock full of other goodies.

Here are a few highlights of HB-909 you may be interested in:
- Contract Brewing is legalized
- Cider growler fills at bars/restaurants are legalized, with same rules as beer
- Distilleries can now sell bottles of their wares from their taproom directly to the public

If any of these highlights previously listed look familiar to you, that’s because you’ve spent just as much time as I have perusing what died in the Alcoholic Beverage Control’s committee, and we both need some fresh air. Specifically, Contract Brewing pertains to HB-625 and Distillery sales to public was HB-107.

This isn’t some abstract bill; this will help many local businesses. Salud Bottle Shop in NoDa will benefit from the Contract Brewing provision, Cider growlers will help upcoming Charlotte cideries Red Clay and GoodRoad, and distillery sales will be a boon to local operations like Belmont’s Muddy River.

Of note: Nobody was brave enough to touch the poison pill of HB-278 for fear of reprisal from the North Carolina Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association. Sadly, the threat of a state-mandated partnership with a distributor is still the sword of Damocles looming over the heads of many local breweries. Perhaps we’ll have better luck in the next session.

This is where you come in: HB-909 has passed the Senate Commerce Committee and heads now to the Finance Committee. After finding out who represents your district, contact your senator and request their support for HB-909.

Craft beverage supporters might not have gotten everything they needed in this legislative session, but at this point I think even a partial victory would feel nice.

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