A group of bipartisan state lawmakers is touting a bill they say would loosen alcohol laws and help the craft beer industry.
Currently North Carolina brewers can distribute their own beer up to a production level of 25,000 barrels. After a brewery hits that threshold, law requires that they use a distributor. Three breweries – Red Oak in Greensboro, NoDa in Charlotte, and Olde Mecklenburg in Charlotte are approaching the cap and want lawmakers to increase the limit on self distribution.
“It’s a disaster for us,” said John Marino is the founder of Olde Mecklenburg Brewery in Charlotte. “In essence, my entire business model is going to have to change if this law does not get changed this year. Why is North Carolina holding down their local manufacturing businesses? I have no idea. It makes no sense.”
Brewers like Marino say lifting the cap supports free enterprise, small businesses, tourism and manufacturing. The bill filed would lift the self distribution cap to 200,000 barrels.
The long-established beer and wine lobby says it’s open to a change, but a proposal to increase the cap by that much is simply a non-starter.
“It opens the door for large brewers to also want to be able to self distribute,” said Tim Kent, a lobbyist with the North Carolina Beer and Wine wholesalers, at the General Assembly. “And when a large brewer self distributes that reduces paths to market for craft brewers.”
In 2003, lawmakers passed a bill known as “pop the cap”, which allowed craft breweries in the state to use a higher volume of alcohol. Since then the craft industry has proliferated The state now has 200 craft breweries, most in the southeast.
State Representative Jon Hardister (R-Guilford County) is sponsoring the bill. His district includes Red Oak Brewery, which has stopped beer production just shy of the limit. Hardister said the measure is about promoting a free market economy.
"We have over 150 craft breweries in the state of North Carolina, they employ people, they pay taxes and we need to allow those businesses to grow,” Hardister said.