If you’ve heard anything about North Carolina’s self-distribution cap over the last year, the discussion probably focused around The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery and NoDa Brewing.
Which makes sense, since these breweries — along with Red Oak Brewery out of Whitsett — distribute their own beers and are fast approaching an annual production of 25,000 barrels. Once these breweries eclipse that number, state law dictates that they must sign on with a distributor.
For OMB and NoDa Brewing, that could mean no longer distributing their beers in the manner they wish. Worse yet, it could mean laying off the sales and distribution staff they have spent the last few years growing, since these positions would no longer be necessary.
So of the state’s 150+ breweries, these three are the most likely to be affected by the law in the near future. But they are not alone in wanting to see the self-distribution cap raised, which was apparent this past Friday night at OMB during the Craft Freedom launch party.
Beer was flowing in the biergarten, which is nothing new, but it wasn’t just pints of OMB’s Copper, Captain Jack or the newly-released Früh Bock. Breweries like Birdsong Brewing, Legion Brewing, Triple C Brewing and NoDa Brewing were on hand pouring their own beers and showing their support for the Craft Freedom initiative, which aims to raise the self-distribution limit. Four formal Craft Freedom launch parties took place last Friday: one at OMB, one at Red Oak Brewery, one at Raleigh Brewing Co., and one at Ironclad Brewery in Wilmington.
Triple C Brewing’s head brewer, Scott Kimball, was pouring at the Craft Freedom launch in Charlotte. Triple C should produce around 6,000 barrels of beer this year, so they are several years away from hitting the 25,000 barrel mark.
“Whether or not it affects us right now doesn’t really matter,” said Kimball. “It should be a small business’s decision.”
Also in attendance was Craig Nunn from Blue Blaze Brewing, which is currently under construction in west Charlotte. Like Kimball, he wanted to support the movement even if he won’t need to consider the self-distribution cap for some time.
They are just one of many beer-related businesses across the state to sign on with Craft Freedom’s supporters.
Both John Marrino of OMB and Todd and Suzie Ford of NoDa have invested substantially in their breweries. Marrino has invested more than $12 million in his facility, with another $4 million to be invested soon in a building next door. The Fords have invested around $10 million between their original location and the new production facility in North End.
“Our whole thing is to invest locally and be local,” said Marrino.
Investing in the local market creates what Marrino calls a “virtuous cycle,” where money spent at a local brewery continues to be reinvested into the local economy and community. He wants to continue making these investments, but said it is difficult to do so if he doesn’t know what the future holds for his business.
“We’re in hesitation mode now,” he said. “We can’t make decisions, because we’re stuck. We’re going to hit a ceiling,” Marrino said.
And can they raise that ceiling? Marrino has been told it’s not likely to happen in 2016, since it’s a short session for the North Carolina General Assembly this year. Between now and next year’s long session, the plan is to educate people through the Craft Freedom initiative.
“Our goal is to spend the next year educating the public, educating the politicians, educating everybody in the state on why this law is no good for North Carolina,” said Marrino. “And hopefully be in a position to get the legislature to change this law early next year between the sessions.”
The will likely have plenty of help along the way. Whereas last year OMB and NoDa Brewing were the most vocal in support of raising the cap, now a host of businesses across the state have joined the Craft Freedom movement.