Politics & Government

Court could be next on tap for craft brewers – ‘We don’t have a choice’

Charlotte craft brewers are likely to go to court next month to fight a law that limits how much they can produce before having to contract with a distributor, a brewer said Tuesday.

Todd Ford, owner of NoDa Brewery, made his comments after a House panel approved a watered down version of the bill the craft industry had counted on. It would have raised the brewers’ annual production cap from 25,000 to 200,000 barrels before a brewery has to contract with a distributor.

“I think our hand’s been forced, we don’t have a choice,” Ford said. “(Going to court) is a drastic option, but we feel we’ve been pushed into a corner.”

NoDa and Charlotte’s Olde Mecklenburg Brewery have been leading the fight to raise the cap. They’ve met strong opposition from the N.C. Beer & Wine Wholesalers. That group persuaded legislative allies to remove a provision lifting the cap from House Bill 500, which passed a committee in its watered down form Tuesday.

The vote came a day after GOP Rep. John Bradford of Cornelius implored both sides to return to the table for a last-ditch compromise.

At this point, it would appear that the wholesalers have little incentive to compromise. Tim Kent, executive director of the wholesalers group, said he’d talk to Bradford but didn’t commit to any compromise.

“I’ve got to hear what he says,” Kent said.

Ford said, “We’ve always been willing to compromise from day one.”

“It’s just been made clear by our opposition that compromise was never a consideration.”

Ford and his allies talked about their legal options with former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr. Orr has said he’s optimistic that a suit could succeed.

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill