On Thursday, May 30th, Governor Cooper signed a bill loosening restrictions on independent breweries across the state.
The approval of House Bill 363, the Craft Beer Distribution and Modernization Act, is a win for small breweries statewide—and was also a long time coming.
“It’s a win for the industry because it gives more flexibility to larger brewers who are entering the wholesale distribution system,” says Richard Greene, executive director of the North Carolina Brewers Guild, which represents about two hundred twenty-five of the state’s three hundred and twelve breweries.
North Carolina—which only fifteen years ago had a law in place prohibiting beer with more than 6 percent ABV, is already the most liberal craft beer state in the South, Greene says. It has the seventh-highest number of breweries per capita.
With this change, Greene says, “a small brewer can open up a taproom in a big town and sell their own beer and also self-distribute”—essentially, cutting out an expensive middleman.
In 2017, the powerful N.C. Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association quashed an effort led by Representative Chuck McGrady to raise the cap from twenty-five thousand barrels to two hundred thousand—the ninth unsuccessful proposal to raise the cap since 2003. (A watered-down version of McGrady’s bill, HB 500, eventually passed.) The wholesalers argued that the current system was working, and the changes would allow national brands like InBev to exploit a law made to help local companies. McGrady told the INDY then that he didn’t see much hope for progress.
But then Charlotte breweries NoDa Brewery and Olde Mecklenburg filed a lawsuit arguing that the law capping self-distribution violated the state constitution, which forced the wholesalers to the table and, in March, led to the compromise HB 363.
“There was some give and take between both the craft breweries and the wholesalers,” says McGrady, a longtime proponent of loosening alcohol regulations who is not seeking reelection next year.
HB 363 won’t affect any breweries in McGrady’s district. However, it will help modernize the state’s “antiquated” and “Prohibition-era-mindset” alcoholic beverage laws, McGrady says.
“Times have changed,” he says. “Breweries today and distilleries today are very people- and family-friendly places. Many of the regulations that were put in place to control alcohol are probably unnecessary and don’t make much sense.”
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