From Tim Kent, executive director of the North Carolina Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association, in response to “Free North Carolina’s brews from archaic regulations” (May 11, For the Record):
North Carolina now has 100 breweries in operation from Bryson City to Manteo. A story on Georgia Public Broadcasting recently referred to North Carolina as the “Oregon of the South.” There’s a reason North Carolina is widely considered the best beer state south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
North Carolina has the most favorable beer laws of any state in the Southeast. These laws were a key factor in helping to attract three of the nation’s largest craft brewers to establish East Coast breweries in Western North Carolina. Oskar Blues (ranked #24) is open for business in Brevard, the No. 2-ranked Sierra Nevada has its grand opening scheduled for this summer in Mills River and No. 3 New Belgium recently broke ground on its new brewery near downtown Asheville.
Unlike some of our neighboring states, North Carolina long ago adopted legislation which increased the legal alcoholic beverage volume (ABV) for malt beverages from 6 percent to 15 percent. N.C. craft brewers were thereby encouraged to exercise greater creativity in their brewing process and it has helped spur the state’s craft beer business.
In our state, craft brewers have many legal advantages not found in some other states in the South. Craft brewers may sell their own products at the brewery while operating as many as three other retail outlets. The 2013 General Assembly adopted legislation to allow the sale of 64-ounce growlers of draft beer. A 2012 rewrite of the N.C. Beer Franchise Law provided craft brewers the unique ability to terminate a distributor relationship without good cause. This special “carve out” for craft brewers is found in only four other states, and it was made possible here because of an agreement between the N.C. Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association and the N.C. Brewers Guild.
Perhaps the most vital part of the 2012 rewrite is that it clearly asserts that beer distributors are truly independent and can carry a variety of competing products without undue pressure from a major brewer.
North Carolina, like the other 49 states, regulates its beer business through a three-tier system which provides a separation of brewers, distributors and retailers. The system has effectively balanced community attitudes about alcohol with healthy competition. The consumer benefits with a vast array of product choices.
The state’s four largest craft brewers (Highland, Foothills, Natty Greene’s and Lonerider) have all grown significantly through their relationships with N.C. beer distributors. Other N.C. craft brewers are also expanding.
North Carolina legislators and regulators have struck the right balance in providing an opportunity for incubator breweries to grow while, at the same time, recognizing that beer and other alcoholic beverages are unique products that need to be marketed and distributed in a responsible manner.