The push to raise how much beer a craft beer brewery can sell on its own before being forced to hire a distributor failed again this year.
A watered-down version of the bill with some minor pro-craft beer reforms has passed the N.C. House of Representatives and is now in the Senate for consideration.
But it’s not what the “Craft Freedom” movement, led by Charlotte’s Olde Mecklenburg Brewery and NoDa Brewing Co., had sought. The supporters made free-market arguments in seeking to raise the 25,000-barrel cap for self-distribution. They found a Republican sponsor in Rep. Chuck McGrady, hired GOP consultant Paul Shumaker and got conservative groups such as the Carolina Journal and John Locke Foundation on board, too.
But it just wasn’t enough.
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Distribution companies said the changes would kill jobs in their industry. The distribution lobby has contributed money to the members of the key committee the bill had to pass through, and that committee chose not to approve the bill.
McGrady agreed to remove the distribution changes from the bill so he could gain some support for minor pro-craft beer changes.
Those included explicitly allowing homebrewing competitions (which are legally ambiguous now); letting breweries provide tastings during tours; and allowing retail stores to fill crowlers, which are the size of growlers but are sealed cans instead of resealable glass jugs.
The bill can fail, pass as is or go back to the House with some tweaks.
As a full-time political reporter and part-time beer columnist, I’m here with some winning ideas for alcohol law reform while we wait on the bill’s fate.
1. Any beer whose label features an overly voluptuous woman (looking at you, blonde ales) will be subject to a higher sales tax.
Judging from my recent trips to bottle shops and grocery stores, it would haul in a decent amount of money. Plus liberals and social conservatives can both agree on this one.
It’s a perfect plan for bipartisan tax reform.
2. Use that tax money to fund research into growing hops in North Carolina, where the climate is suboptimal.
The short-term benefit is obvious: Demand for hops is outpacing supply.
There’s also a long-term benefit. As craft beer continues to grow, drinkers have started developing preferences for not just styles but regional varieties of those styles. Take the West Coast IPA vs. New England IPA battle, a large part of which comes down to the different tastes and bitterness levels of certain hops.
Divides like that will probably keep accelerating, and it could help North Carolina to have something new and distinctive of its own that breweries can use as a marketing tool.
Rap got way better after the South developed a third distinct style to compete with the East and West coasts. Why shouldn’t beer do the same?
3. Let people buy alcohol before noon on Sundays.
The “brunch bill” that would let restaurants start serving alcohol at 10 a.m. on Sundays still has hope – despite recent appearances to the contrary — according to its sponsor, Sen. Rick Gunn, a Republican from Burlington.
But I’m not here to talk about that bill. Let’s talk about grocery stores and all the poor, poor Carolina Panthers football fans instead.
The Panthers will play 12 games at 1 p.m. on a Sunday this year (cue the sad trombone). That’s almost every single regular season game.
The Panthers were pretty bad last year, and with so many early kickoffs this year, the state ought to at least reward the fans who are still on the bandwagon with the opportunity to throw a great game-watching party.
If they can check out from the store before noon with beer and food, that will at least give them time to whip up some good dips and sandwiches while nervously waiting for kickoff.
4. Create an income tax credit for everyone who writes a monthly beer column for a major North Carolina newspaper.
It’s economic development 101. More money in their pockets will mean more beer sales, and everyone wins. Trust me on this.
5. Ban sour beers.
Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran