As NC craft beer industry grows, New Belgium Brewing exec hired to guide brewers

New Belgium Brewing Company, based in Colorado, opened a brewery near Asheville to make beer for the East Coast.
New Belgium Brewing Company, based in Colorado, opened a brewery near Asheville to make beer for the East Coast. For The Washington Post

The North Carolina Brewers Guild hired a new director who has been the top lobbyist for one of the country’s largest independent breweries.

Andrew Lemley, a former Lutheran pastor, will come to Raleigh from New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colo., where he led the company’s lobbying efforts for the past three years through its government affairs program. He’ll be well acquainted with North Carolina’s beer policies, as New Belgium’s East Coast outpost has been up and running in Asheville for more than a year.

“He will be a great asset for us as we continue to move things forward, whether advancing the interests of brewers in the state or playing defense against anything that comes up,” said Jamie Bartholomaus, vice president of the guild’s board and founder of Foothills Brewing in Winston-Salem.

“It’s a fairly tough job, honestly,” he said. “There’s a combination of skills required to be successful. Andrew had a mix of all the things we feel are important.”

Lemley replaces Margo Metzger, who left the guild in August to become marketing director for Our State magazine.

He is the first director to come from a brewery and the first person from out of state.

He arrives at a time when craft breweries continue to spring up regularly throughout the state. The nonprofit guild, whose goal is to promote North Carolina beer and be an advocate for craft breweries, vendors and beer enthusiasts, says North Carolina has more than 230 breweries. As that growth continues, brewers also face legal roadblocks to expanding distribution of their beer.

Earlier this year, legislation to increase the state’s cap on self-distribution pit brewers and wholesalers against one another. North Carolina has an annual cap on production of 25,000 barrels before breweries have to sign with a distributing wholesaler. There was a push to increase that limit to 200,000 barrels, led by Charlotte breweries NoDa and Olde Mecklenburg, which produce beer that approaches the maximum barrel limit.

But that effort ultimately failed to come to a vote, a result many credit to the political clout of the state’s beer distributors.

That legislation had the backing of the N.C. Brewers Guild, which continues to support raising or eliminating the barrel limit. While Lemley’s background is in government affairs, Bartholomaus said another attempt to raise the limit is unlikely and isn’t why Lemley was hired.

“I very much support increasing the self-distribution limit; I think there should be no limit,” Bartholomaus said. “But it’s somewhat of a special interest. There are certain select breweries it matters a lot to. We tried to take it up in the General Assembly, and now they’re going a different route. The majority of our members did not feel as strongly that we should continue to push for that. ... Our members did not see that as an immediate legislative priority. For most, the limit is not a limiting factor.”

The fight moved to Wake County Superior Court, where NoDa, Olde Mecklenburg and the organization Craft Freedom, which advocates lifting the distribution cap, filed a lawsuit against the state earlier this year.

Fawn Pattison, who has been serving as interim executive director of the guild since August, said Lemley is already known to the Guild through mutual lobbying efforts in Raleigh and Washington. As beer continues its rise in economic power and influence, expect more legislative changes, she said.

“A lot of the laws and regulations framing the beer industry are going back to the Prohibition era,” Pattison said. “There’s a lot that needs to be modified, and we want the state to recognize the importance of this industry in growing jobs, the economy and the tax base. We have to keep on top of these things, stay current and adapt to the environment we live in.

“Coming from New Belgium, Andrew really understands the national and global perspective for beer and brings broad sophistication,” Pattison said.

Lemley will start Nov. 6.

Drew Jackson; 919-829-4707; @jdrewjackson