North Carolina’s biggest craft breweries, with their giant stainless steel vats, are pushing for new beer legislation in Raleigh. So is Jonathan Barber, who uses his kitchen to brew up homemade lager in five-gallon kettles.
Barber, a Charlotte lawyer, is one of hundreds, if not thousands of home brewers in North Carolina. They’re backing Senate Bill 604, which would enable them to share their brews at festivals, public events and home brew competitions.
“It’s something we’re all passionate about,” Barber said Friday. “For most of us it’s one of our favorite hobbies.”
Another beer bill has gotten more attention. So-called Craft Freedom, led by Charlotte’s Olde Mecklenburg and NoDa breweries, supports House Bill 500. That would raise the cap on what craft brewers can produce before they have to contract with a beer wholesaler. Now 25,000 barrels, it would rise to 200,000.
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Both the craft brewers and wholesalers are mounting costly campaigns, with consultants and lobbyists.
By contrast, SB604 has drawn little attention since it was introduced this month by Sen. Norman Sanderson, a Pamlico County Republican.
Nationwide, there are an estimated 1.2 million home brewers, according to the American Homebrewers Association. The group’s parent organization, the Brewers Association, estimates the economic impact of home brewing at more than $1.2 billion.
The number of home brewers in North Carolina is unclear. The Charlotte-based Carolina BrewMasters counts about 150 members.
Some are likely to be at NoDa brewery Saturday, which is hosting an event for home brewers.
People can bring their 5-gallon containers and fill them with the breweries “wort,” the sugary unfermented liquid that’s a first step in beer production. Then they’ll be able to take the wort home, doctor it with their own yeast and flavors to produce their own brew.
“It’s an opportunity for them to be creative with the product,” said NoDa owner Todd Ford. “It’s good for the home brewers and it’s good for us because we get to be connected to our home brew roots.”
Ford got his start brewing in his south Charlotte garage almost a quarter-century ago. So he sympathizes with the home brewers in their fight against laws that limit their ability to share their hobbies.
It’s unclear how much support Sanderson’s bill has. A Facebook page for a group called “Operation Liberate Homebrew” has 245 members.
A spokeswoman for the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission said the commission has no position on the bill.