RALEIGH — Once a year at the N.C. General Assembly, beer and politics and the politics of beer blend like a summer shandy at the Rush the Growler party.
The soiree hosted by the N.C. Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association draws lawmakers, lobbyists, state officials and plenty of staffers to a historic house near the governors mansion for barbecue and beer. Of the many receptions throughout the legislative session, the growler party is one of the most popular.
We like to think its the social event of the year on the legislative calendar, said Tim Kent, the associations executive director and lobbyist.
(For me, its a cant miss combining my day job covering politics for the newspaper and my night job writing about craft beer.)
The growler event showcases the evolving mindset at the Statehouse toward beer particularly craft beer since 2005 when lawmakers popped the cap and lifted the alcohol limit from 6 percent to 15 percent. Approved by narrow votes, the law enabled the craft brewery expansion so visible today in North Carolina.
I think we are seeing a greater appreciation for craft beer than ever before, said Rep. Susan Fisher, a Democrat who represents downtown Asheville, the heart of the states beer culture. And I think its something that goes across partisan lines.
This year, two beer bills are moving quickly. One would allow grocery stores, restaurants and other retailers to sell and refill half-gallon jugs known as growlers. South Carolina allows a similar practice, and the change is directed at enthusiasts.
The N.C. Brewers Guild didnt want the law a year ago because they worried about quality control. But guild President Sean Wilson of Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, who attended a recent legislative committee meeting, suggested the political timing is right.
House lawmakers approved the bill 87-27 last week with no debate; it awaits consideration in the Senate.
Another measure would permit in-stand beer sales at professional sporting events, such as minor league baseball and Carolina Hurricanes games.
The current law only allows in-stand sales at Carolina Panthers games in Charlotte, reserving it for stadiums with a capacity of at least 60,000. The legislation would lower the cap to 3,000 seats but prevent vendors from yelling beer here as they walk the aisles.
House lawmakers sharply criticized the bill on the floor, where critics worried that making beer too accessible would promote excessive drinking. A number of socially conservative lawmakers, a group not as big as years past but still ardent, oppose any bill that encourages alcohol consumption.
I dont think its unreasonable for us to ask people who wish to consume alcohol to get up from the seat and walk to the window, said Rep. Edgar Starnes, a Hickory Republican who said he doesnt drink alcohol. It won approval 73-51 a closer vote.
At the growler party, the ratio still favors Big Beer. Just about half the beer consumed at the party came from the big three domestic light lagers Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Light. Another 15 percent were imports, such as Corona and Heineken, Kent said.
But the growing popularity of craft beer was apparent, particularly among the younger crowd. Big Boss, Foothills, Natty Greenes and Lonerider were represented, along with two breweries expanding in North Carolina, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium.
Sen. Thom Goolsby, a Wilmington Republican, savored a Lagunitas India Pale Ale as he talked shop with the governors lobbyist, Morgan Beam, who held a Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA. Goolsby said he homebrewed when he was a law school student. It was cheap as a student without money, he said.
Durham Rep. Larry Hall, a Democrat, drank a Yuengling, his beer of choice. I wouldnt say Im a craft beer drinker, he said. But I understand the value they bring.
Among lawmakers, he said, craft beer is less about drinking. I think its more of a job creation and revenue viewpoint now, he said.
What Im drinking
A recent day in the garden with neighbors required a six-pack of cans to share. I gravitated toward the Crazy Mountain brewerys Mountain Livin Pale Ale, a beer I had a year ago in Colorado that is now being distributed in the Triangle.
The playful citrusy pale ale puts the hop flavor in front of the bitterness and perfectly fits a day in the sun.
Stats: 5.7 percent ABV, 40 IBU. A six-pack sells for $10.
Contact John at 919-829-4698 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ByJohnFrank.