Some North Carolina craft breweries have been asking for relief from the state’s requirement that once they get big enough they have no choice but to hire an outside distribution company.
The distributors have long been a politically powerful group. But as the state’s craft brewing industry has grown to become the the largest in the Southeast – worth more than $1 billion a year – some beer makers are pushing for more power of their own.
Breweries that make more than 25,000 barrels of beer annually are required to sign a contract with a distributor, who serves as a middleman handling delivery and sales.
Opponents of that law call their push “Craft Freedom” as a nod to the belief that breweries should be more free to handle their own distribution. They want the cap raised to 200,000 barrels, and a petition asking for the change has received several thousand signatures. Among the breweries pushing for the increase are Raleigh Brewing Co., Charlotte breweries Olde Mecklenburg and NoDa, and Red Oak Brewery in Whitsett.
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A bill filed Wednesday only went half as far as they’re asking, however, with a proposal to raise the cap to 100,000 barrels.
Republican Rep. Michael Speciale, of New Bern, filed the bill. It’s not his first time trying it, either. He suggested the same change in 2015, but the bill died in committee. Speciale couldn’t be reached for comment on whether he thinks the bill has a better chance this year.
Speciale also didn’t run his idea past the N.C. Craft Brewers Guild before filing the bill, said Margo Knight Metzger, the guild’s president, who didn’t comment on the specifics of his proposal.
“While we appreciate Rep. Speciale's enthusiasm and support for our industry, we were not aware of this bill prior to the filing yesterday,” she said. “We are taking the lead on many issues affecting craft brewers, and we look forward to working with lawmakers and regulators to address those concerns when the time is right.”
Also in 2015, Republican Rep. Chuck McGrady of Hendersonville filed a more extensive pro-brewery bill that addressed the 25,000-barrel cap along with several other regulatory changes.
McGrady’s 2015 bill would’ve raised the cap only to 60,000 barrels. Even that faced opposition, and McGrady later removed it to try to give the other changes a better chance of passing – but the bill still ended up dying in committeee.
That bill or one like it hasn’t been resurrected in this session – at least not yet. But McGrady did sign on as a co-sponsor to Speciale’s bill Wednesday along with fellow Republicans Mike Clampett of Bryson City and Larry Pittman of Concord.
Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran